The creation of a zoo in Dickensian London – when only one other existed across the world – is a story of jaw-dropping audacity. It is the story of trailblazing scientists, rival zookeepers and aristocratic naturalists collecting amazing animals from all four corners of the globe. It is the story of a weird and wonderful oasis in the heart of a swirling city, and of incredible characters, both human and animal – from Stamford Raffles and Charles Darwin to Jenny the orang-utan and Obaysch the celebrity hippo, the first that anyone in Britain had ever seen. Against a background of global Empire, domestic reform and industrialisation, this is a new history of a new world.
Isobel Charman is an award-winning television producer. She has spent the last decade working in factual documentary production as a writer, researcher, producer and director and has worked on award-winning films for UK, European and US broadcasters. For The Zoo she has made unprecedented use of the vast archives at the Zoological Society of London. She lives in London.
"Vivid, entertaining and scrupulously researched"
– New York Times
"Fascinating [...] nostalgia, social and natural history and the ongoing need to change"
– Chris Packham
"What an incredible story [...] a charming and lovely read [...] a striking tale of discovery for the people involved and also for us [...] you can give this book to anyone"
– Jonathan Ross
"[A] vivid novelistic retelling [...] An impressive work of imagination and research, as well as a pleasure to read"
– PD Smith, The Guardian
"A rich, imaginative and original history, written with a film-maker's eye for detail, and starring a remarkable cast of characters. Short of asking the animals themselves, it's hard to think how this might be bettered"
– Dr Richard Barnett, author of Medical London
"Terrific. Charman flings open the doors of a cabinet stuffed with zoological and human curios, blows off the dust of a couple of centuries, and talks us expertly and entrancingly through each exhibit"
– Charles Foster, author of Being a Beast
"Delightful [...] Charman takes the story out of the cages and onto the smoggy, sometimes riotous streets of Victorian London, up and down the country and beyond its shores"
"As I always tell my students, if you wish to understand science you need to understand the people involved in its development. Whilst the animals in a zoo are rightfully the stars of the show – their supporting human cast is no less fascinating and it is this that Isobel Charman has so wonderfully captured in her book."
– Prof. Robert J. Young, Chair in Wildlife Conservation, University of Salford
"She succeeds in personalising the story, bringing to life this extraordinary episode in humankind's search for a better understanding of the natural world"
– Ian Critchley, Sunday Times
"The book's structure and style is that of a historical novel or Victorian melodrama [...] it would all make a wonderful seven-part historical costume drama"
– Andrew Hartston, Daily Express