The Lady and the Panda: the True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China's Most Exotic Animal
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The Lady and the Panda: the True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China's Most Exotic Animal

3.67 of 5 stars 3.67  ·  rating details  ·  589 ratings  ·  125 reviews
Here is the astonishing true story of Ruth Harkness, the Manhattan bohemian socialite who, against all but impossible odds, trekked to Tibet in 1936 to capture the most mysterious animal of the day: a bear that had for countless centuries lived in secret in the labyrinth of lonely cold mountains. In The Lady and the Panda, Vicki Constantine Croke gives us the remarkable ac...more
Hardcover, 372 pages
Published July 5th 2005 by Random House (first published 2005)
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Scott Taylor
She floats through the air with the greatest of ease, the young fashionista on the flying trapeze. Or, a young, attractive rich girl who never worked a day in her life goes on fun jaunts in China and lucks herself into bringing a panda back to the United States. I have to respect the author for laying out an unvarnished book about a woman who was about as unrelateable to me as possible, and making me care.

Reminiscent of the world of explorers pictured in the boyhood dreams of the old man in "Up,...more
Kim
This one really bothered me a lot. I like memoirs, and this one sounded like it would be fascinating, since the woman managed to bring back a baby panda, alive. She was the first one to do so, and the passion & love she had for the pandas is amazing. But her lifestyle was quite destructive, her choices were also destructive, and I think she changed people's lives not for the better. Very sad story in a lot of ways. I also found it interesting that her young husband who was 35 years old died...more
Amy Shuman
Apparently I'm on a 'living with animals' kick again. I must be a masochist for this one. Since this is the true story of the first person to bring west a giant panda from China it takes place in the '30's. You know, at the height of the animal trade when millions of exotic animals were hunted and captured for zoos and hundreds of thousands of them died either in transit or because no one cared enough to care for them properly. Zoo goers were alerted to each new 'exhibit' with announcements of '...more
Elizabeth K.
The story of Ruth Harkness, the American woman who went to China in the 1930s to finish up her late husband's plan to capture a live panda. My gosh, the world is so unfair because I will never have a dinosaur, I will never have a pygmy elephant, and I will never have a baby panda. It is madness how cute her baby pandas were. Harkness's story is genuinely interesting - she was a socialite and a fashionista and perfectly willing to rough it in the wilds of China to snatch a baby panda and the esse...more
Karma
What an amazing woman and an incredible story!!!!! I had no idea that Panda's were such a relatively new species (as far as us in the western world knowing they existed). Ruth Harkness is an incredible woman. I admire her fearlessness and ability to find friends anywhere she goes. I was touched by her obivous love for the giant panda bears. It is crazy that in the 1930's when robust men were trying like crazy to be the first to catch a live panda bear that a woman would be the one to do it!! I w...more
Katie
Um. OBSESSED. Absolutely, positively obsessed with this book. I can't believe I've never heard of Ruth Harkness before, and am so, so glad that I finally did. Every detail of her adventure, from start to finished, is detailed extremely well, with plenty of her own thoughts/voice from letters she wrote during the events. Her passion for China and its people seeps through the pages, along with the almost divine aspect of her journey. The result is a total adventure story, to the T. She's basically...more
Meg - A Bookish Affair
After Ruth Harkness' husband dies in China while trying to bring back the first live Giant Panda back to the United States, Ruth is pushed to continue his journey. At the time she travels to China (late 1930s), American women are not known for traveling to far off places and they are definitely not known for adventuring, which could be both brutal and dangerous. Ruth is determined to find a live Giant Panda. She eventually succeeds (twice!) and becomes a media darling and really begins to put in...more
Almira
"China is a country of unforgettable color, and often, quite unbidden, come vivid pictures to my mind--sometimes it is the golden roofs of the Imperial City in Peking, or again it is the yellow corn on the flat-roofed little stone houses in the country of the Tibetan border land" Ruth Harkness

February 19, 1936 William Harvest Harkness, Jr. lay dying in Shanghai, his bohemian, socialite wife, Ruth Harkness was in New York City, totally unaware of what her husband was facing. He had left for China...more
Bookmarks Magazine

Following the publication of her article on Harkness in The Washington Post, Croke discovered hundreds of letters from Harkness's trip to China. Armed with this correspondence, as well as hours of new interviews conducted for the project, Croke, the "Animal Beat" writer for the Boston Globe and author of The Modern Ark (1997), has produced this well-researched, well-written tale. The Lady and the Panda succeeds as a grand adventure and celebration of an overlooked independent woman whom Croke de

...more
Amy (folkpants)
The history detailed in this book was interesting as in it is always interesting to learn new facts. However, the praise for Harkness as a heroine left me rubbed the wrong way. The story is one of foreign invasion, man's belief in a manifest destiny, and borderline animal cruelty. I could not get past a book that applauded what a modern reader or nature conservationist would find horrifying.
Spencer
I really liked this book! It is a biography of Ruth Hawkness, the first American explorer to bring back a giant panda alive during hte 1930s. When I think of biographies, I don't usually think of exciting reading, but this book proved that wrong. It was very well researched and written. It took me a little while to read just because I was so busy and some parts didn't leave me with a desire to keep reading, but I am sure glad I did. For the most part however, it kept me wanting to know more and...more
Bethany
The Lady and the Panda is the story of Ruth Harkness, who brought the first giant panda to the United States to live at Brookfield Zoo. Her husband, William, dreamed of being able to capture a live panda to show in a zoological context; however, he died on an expedition of throat cancer. Ruth Harkness picked up where he left off and traveled to China. Against the odds, she procured an infant giant panda. She traveled to China several times after that in hopes of finding another panda, and was su...more
Korynn
This book focuses more on the Lady than the Panda, in fact it particularly annoyed me that the author completely forgot to finish the story of the remaining panda, Mei-Mei. The Lady of the book is Mrs. Harkness, a woman who loses her perfect mate to the wilderness and the search for the giant panda. Bereft, she becomes possessed to finish his quest and goes herself, falling in love with China. However that did not prevent her from stealing the baby panda from China and giving it to the States, w...more
Judy
This is a biographical account of the first panda brought to a US Zoo. No, not San Diego in the 1990s- but rather, Brookfield in Chicago in the 1930s. The author, Vicki Croke has a previous book on the history of zoos. Her interest in the subject is confirmed with this work. This book is written with the focus on Ruth Harkness, the remarkable woman that made the adventure and the panda come together.

A related tale by Michael Kiefer (Chasing the Panda)tells the role of two Chinese-American natur...more
Zeb
Somewhat interesting book about a woman venturing into what was considered a man's occupation. Ruth Harkness wanted to capture an elusive panda in the memory of her husband and bring it back alive to the states. She may have inadvertently caused a shift from the appeal of sending back only skins and parts to institutions to live specimens. But in doing so more pandas were killed or kept alive in inhumane conditions. With all the interest generated in capturing a live panda, China learned quickly...more
Elizabeth
ruth harkness first westerner to bring over a live panda from china in 1936. ahead of her time in many respects. she grew up in a modest home, but moved to new york and flourished mixing with the socialites. it was among this crowd that she met her husband bill. bill had a large trust fund and spent much of his time on adventures around the world. he died while in china trying to procure a panda for the u.s. ruth made it her mission to complete what he started. this is a work based on journals,...more
gwen
Ruth Harkness' story is amazing -- I had no idea that a Depression-era female adventurer had brought back the first living panda to the United States. This made a great audio book; the narrator's voice was decent, and the quick pace and linear retelling of the story make it a good choice when you know you're going to have to start and stop a lot, and probably zone out a bit along the way.

I really wish, though, that the author had explored certain parts of of the story in more depth. I really wan...more
Cwall
Ruth Harkness upstaged the male adventurers of her day by taking home a baby panda in 1936. She did not capture it. She put together an expedition of men who knew what they were doing and they basically got the panda for her. She did take such good care of it, though, that it survived to become an exhibit at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. The author seems to think Ruth Harkness is admirable, but that's a stretch for me. I was interested in the historical perspective of the exploitation of China...more
Jane [and live like we're still alive]
It was a very interesting story, but I'm not sure I liked the style much. I didn't expect it to be a non-fiction book, but it really is. I found that I often wanted to get inside the main character's head to see what she was thinking, but I couldn't, which can sometimes make it an agonizing read. I also read it for Book Club, which was not a good idea. Since it's non-fiction, you're given the facts. No opinions, no symbolism, which makes it a really hard book to discuss and go deeper into.

With...more
Samantha
I digested this book by CD's. Lorna Raver's reading makes me think she's wearing long satin gloves, clutching a martini in one hand while gazing upward, fondling her long pearl necklace with the other. Pretty sure she's wearing a genuine mink shawl as well. She pauses simply to take a sip of the martini.

In all seriousness, I'd never heard of Ruth Harkness and I'm most certainly glad I got to peek in on her explorations. I would like to read Harkness's book (of the same name,) however that text h...more
Caroline
This is a well-researched and engrossing non-fiction book about a complex, New York socialite named Ruth Harkness. Harkness made three expeditions to China and was the first person to bring live pandas to the U.S. I don't think that this book is everyone's cup of tea, but my book group had the benefit of speaking with the author, Vicki Constantine Croke, who is a former animal news reporter, for two hours at our group meeting. I gained a lot of respect for Harkness, who is not always a likeable...more
Kathryn
Jan 29, 2009 Kathryn rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Animal Lovers
Recommended to Kathryn by: Cynthia Fullmer
Shelves: non-fiction
I tend to be really picky about what non-fiction books I will read. This book was given to me a number of years ago when I worked at LVL. I put it off for a while not really having an appetite for non-fiction. So I was pleasantly surprised when I enjoyed it so much! The book is like one big adventure and certainly connects to all the thoughts about a just and sustainable earth, as the panda population continues to decline. Croke does a good job at attempting to paint the good and bad of Ruth Har...more
Kirsten
Recently, we got a picture book at the library called Mrs. Harkness and the Panda. It was an incredible story, and I couldn't believe I'd never heard of it before. I knew I needed to know more, so I searched out this book. This is fascinating stuff - China in the 1930s (both Shanghai and the remote countryside) - and a rollicking good adventure story too. I admit, the first half of the book is more riveting, and then it loses some of its interest. It also became rather bittersweet, as it became...more
Tina
This is a really interesting story of the 'explorer' Ruth Harkness who traveled to the China/Tibet border in 1937 and brought back the first live panda, a baby. The book is true and unfolds against the backdrop of everything else in the world at the time...the Japanese war and invasion of China, etc.
It's the same time period as two other books I read recently, 'When we were Orphans' and 'the Distant lands of my father'..both take place in Shanghai in the 1930's. A wild, bustling international c...more
Florence Primrose
Bill Harkness went to China for a Giant Panda in 1936. Before he even reached the habitat of pandas he was turned back, returned to Shanghai, and died.

His wife, Ruth Harkness, loved travel and adventure and decided she would take over Bill's expedition. There were no women explorers and people laughed and ridiculed her.

This is the fascinating story of how she organize her expedition to western China and eventually captured a baby panda that she brought to Chicqgo.

Her belief in the preservation...more
Katherine
It's subtitled "The True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China's Most Exotic Animal." The book is about the life and times of Ruth Harkness, an intrepid society lady who ventured into China to carry out the quest of her late husband. Fascinating subject but the writing style is unsure and scattered; I would much prefer to read the original 1938 writings of Harkness herself, whose prose seems about twice as vibrant and entertaining as that of Ms. Croke. Still, a very well-...more
Vicki
Well, this was just fantastic. One of those improbable-but-true stories that smart historians are digging up to tell to an audience that thought we'd heard it all.

The introduction though ... oof. I spent probably 4 days picking it up, reading a paragraph, and thinking, "Nah, I'll watch TV." The writing gets much better when Croke is telling the actual story, rather than telling the story of how she decided she wanted to tell the story. Not to be mean, but Ruth Harkness is just a more interestin...more
Jan
Probably a 2.5, maybe a 3. I just never quite reached the point where I liked Ruth Harkness, and there was one bit right near the end where the author of this book seemed to have dropped her notes or something. I had to go back and reread several pages to make sure that I had not skipped pages or fallen asleep while reading one page and picked up on another one. It was completely bizarre.

It was not a bad read, and I'm glad I got the non-whitewashed version by this author rather than Ruth Harknes...more
Mara
Loving animals and being interested in China plus the historical and biographical nature of this woman's adventure made for an engaging read. So many challenges yet so many triumphs of spirit and open-minded approaches were exhilirating yet ultimately crushing to this brave woman. I can imagine how hard it must have been to be a woman ahead of the times dealing with so much loss in contrast to the highs. Overall a recommended read as an eye-opening, fact-filled, unique life story.
Pat
Talk about learning a lot. This book didn't stop. I learned about pandas, Shanghai, and the 1930s. I was again impressed with how accomplished the woman was to go overseas and into the wild in the 1930s. My grandmother was the same age as this woman. What a different lifestyle the two had. My grandmother probably had read about this lady and wished to share her adventures. There is also a slight Chicago connection here. I won't spoil it though.
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19146
Vicki Constantine Croke has been covering pets and wildlife for more than a decade, writing the "Animal Beat" column for The Boston Globe.
Croke is the author of The Lady and the Panda, Animal ER, The Modern Ark, and has also written for Time, People, The Washington Post, and Popular Science, among others.
A former writer and producer for CNN, she has been a contributing reporter for the National Pu...more
More about Vicki Croke...
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