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The Medici Giraffe and Other Tales of Exotic Animals and Power
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The Medici Giraffe and Other Tales of Exotic Animals and Power

3.44  ·  Rating Details  ·  165 Ratings  ·  31 Reviews
A fascinating exploration, spanning two thousand years, ofthe central role exotic animals have played in war, diplomacy, and thepomp of rulers and luminaries.
Hardcover, 414 pages
Published August 21st 2006 by Little, Brown and Company (first published 2006)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 628)
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Joel Mitchell
Jan 17, 2016 Joel Mitchell rated it really liked it
The book's subtitle tells you everything you need to know about its subject matter: "...tales of exotic animals and power." The situations discussed range from the early Ptolemaic Greek Empire through modern diplomatic relations between the US and China. I found the book as a whole interesting, if a bit wandering. In her desire to provide the proper background for understanding each situation, the author sometimes goes much further back in history and into much more detail than is strictly neces ...more
Since the beginning of time, exotic animals have been used as powerful diplomatic tools, representing the wealth and prestige of their masters. Political gifts of animals such as the strong and intelligent elephant, have long been instrumental in brokering peace and aligning nations as allies. In The Medici Giraffe, Maria Belozerskaya takes us on a fascinating journey through the past, focusing on the exotic animals that have been used throughout history as weapons of war, and the symbols of pro ...more
Becky B
Apr 21, 2016 Becky B rated it really liked it
This book is as much a collection of obscure history as stories about animals. Ms Belozerskaya highlights eight different powerful people of history, tells their histories and how exotic animals played an important role in further establishing their authority or demonstrating it. As such, each chapter is a broader history on the life of each person to give the full setting of how exotic animals played this role.

I generally have to force myself to read non-fiction, but I found this a highly reada
Max Renn
Mar 31, 2010 Max Renn rated it really liked it
If Marina Belozerskaya occasionally wanders astray from her announced intention, it is easy to forgive. For this book moves along so effortlessly and pleasurably anecdotal, one doesnt really mind that we never really explore too deeply the relationships of exotic animals to power. Indeed what really is there to say on the subject after stating the obvious.

Instead, keep your hands inside the tram at all times as we embark on a tour through the marvelous, lovely and occasionally savage (on the par
Sep 09, 2012 Richard rated it really liked it
"The Medici Giraffe" is a visual and sensual journey back in time. I was captivated by the author's vivid, colorful, even wistful, descriptions throughout the book. I found it intriguing to see how the collection of rare animals, flora and fauna have symbolized power and prestige since the days of antiquity to present times. This book gave me great insight into rarely discussed or taught aspects of important historical events and what it was like in royal courts from Montezuma to King Rudolf II ...more
Jan 12, 2015 Alex rated it liked it
Shelves: history
"The Medici Giraffe" is a history book with a focus on the animals surrounding certain events in history. I liked it but I didn't read it entirely. I was looking for information for research and other people were waiting for the book at the library. Nevertheless, I read enough of it to satisfy myself that it was well written with an interesting perspective. I was happy with the book. If I pick it up again I'll say more.
Sep 28, 2013 Kevin rated it it was ok
Very disappointing, because it’s not at all what I expected or what it seems to bill itself as. I was expecting more about animals and how they’ve been used to cement or prop up people in power. Instead, this is a collection of somewhat interesting stories about people in power, who just happen to have some kind of connection to animals, in most cases, very peripheral. For instance, Hearst and his menagerie--what did that have to do with his position? Nothing, really, as far as I could tell from ...more
Margaret Sankey
Jul 23, 2011 Margaret Sankey rated it liked it
Vivid vignettes of exotic animals (and people) used as status symbols by their collectors, including Pompey losing the support of the Roman crowd by killing elephants at the games, Lorenzo the Magnificent leveraging an Egyptian giraffe into noble status, Cortez showing off an entourage of Aztec animals and prisoners in Spain, Rudolph II and his menagerie (when he wasn't trying to make a golem or breed albinos), the political ramifications of Empress Josephine sponsoring a naturalist's exploratio ...more
Adrienne Kiser
Jul 19, 2015 Adrienne Kiser rated it really liked it
Interesting, thorough, and quite engaging!
Susan Reed
Oct 05, 2015 Susan Reed rated it liked it
good, too much history sometimes
Aug 05, 2008 Sean rated it it was amazing
A very interesting look at the lives (and, unfortunately, deaths) of particular animals on certain powerful figures in history. Each chapter focuses on a particular person (the chapters on Josephine Bonaparte and Rudolph II were personal favorties) and how they used animals to create a better situation for themselves--either personally or politically--through the wonder of nature. There are many surprising historical factoids and, about midway through, some good discussion on the field of natura ...more
Aug 30, 2010 Heidi rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This was a really interesting (and historically educational) read. Looking at specific people throughout history, right up to current (via the epilogue) from the perspective of how animals helped them further their political power or give them the appearance of being more powerful.

The author does a good job of providing the whole context for her story snapshots, so that if you are not already knowledgeable about that time, you learn and can fully understand the events taking place.
May 24, 2008 Meri rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, europe
Using seven biographical portraits of prominent figures throughout history, this book portrays our timeless awe of exotic creatures. The title is a little off, as more time is spent describing the lives of those who sought and collected exotic creatures than their animals. Nonetheless, its delightful descriptions of everything from ancient Alexandria to William Randolph Hearst's castle on the Pacific coast made this book a joy to read.
Jun 02, 2015 Lizzy rated it it was ok
Shelves: didn-t-finish
I liked the idea of this book, but I found the history too detailed. Was fascinated when she talked about the role the animals actually played, but the rest of it read too much like a history book.
Feb 04, 2013 Christine rated it liked it
This book is an interesting overview of the roles of animals in history. If you have any interest in animals or history, this would be a good book to look into- the stories themselves are interesting and not too bogged down with facts, but they include just enough information to feel like you've learned something after reading it.
Monika Ingram
May 28, 2010 Monika Ingram rated it it was amazing
I am enjoying the impact animals have had on the conquest and development of the world.

I finished it! This was one that I picked up and read a few pages at a time, and really enjoyed it. I had heard a thing or two about certain incidents described in the book, but I there was so much in here that I didn't know.
Oct 01, 2011 J. marked it as tried-to-read
I really enjoyed the first third of this book. But as it went on, it just got more and more boring. Maybe I enjoy ancient history more than modern, but I think the writing itself just got too involved and sort of stalled out. I finally gave up without finishing the last chapter.
Sep 10, 2014 David rated it liked it
The Medici Giraffe and Other Tales of Exotic Animals and Power by Marina Belozerskaya (Little, Brown & Co. 2006)(636.0). The author provides historical glimpses of the uses of animals for power, pomp, and as weapons of war. My rating: 7/10, finished 2009.
Feb 11, 2015 K rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bpl-s-overdrive
Closer to 3 stars than 2 anyway. The tone wasn't particularly objective, but no egregious errors (at least where I had the knowledge to fact-check). Cheerful and accessible portraits of different times/places where animals were used as status symbols.
Jul 25, 2011 Ryan rated it liked it
Shelves: nature
hodge podge of personalities from various periods in history who acquired menageries of exotic beasts for variety of reasons. interesting but lacks coherent theme, more often about social history/autobiographical with passing accounts of actual beasts/animals
Nick Black
Jul 18, 2009 Nick Black marked it as to-read
Shelves: to-acquire
whoa this looks awesome! (via from Currently, all my pets are stuffed whales, but I'd one day like a big ol' tortoise or a komodo dragon or something.
Mar 08, 2009 Helena rated it it was amazing
I love this book. I'm not done with it yet. I've been reading it for about six months now, and it's my special treat book. Each story is so well researched, and alive. Really a wonderful history.
Adriana Johnston
Good book, although the most interesting parts are at the beginning. The texts on the rise of Alexandria, the Roman Circus and the Medici Giraffe are the best in my opinion.
Feb 14, 2012 Michaela rated it it was amazing
This is History, not fantasy or fairy tales. But SUPER briliant. Told in almost a story-like way, but with more facts, and less specifics, especially on ancient history.
Aug 06, 2011 Tom rated it liked it
The first two chapters were good...then it just got boring. The basic gist was "people are horrible to each other and animals. Life sucks".
Nostalgia Reader
Nov 20, 2015 Nostalgia Reader marked it as limbo-later
Shelves: book-library
Just didn't hook me. Will likely give it another try later, but I just need something a little less...epic right now.
Aug 27, 2007 Carrie rated it it was ok
I thought I would like this book more than I did. It was worth reading, but did not keep me glued to my chair.
Jan 21, 2010 Rhonda rated it really liked it
fascinating stories, esp if you like history.
Jul 29, 2008 Rachel marked it as to-read
May be a good one for Dad...
May 18, 2008 Marianne marked it as to-read
RA to Non-fic
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