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Jumbo: This Being the True Story of the Greatest Elephant in the World
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Jumbo: This Being the True Story of the Greatest Elephant in the World

3.64 of 5 stars 3.64  ·  rating details  ·  129 ratings  ·  38 reviews
Jumbo was a superstar of the Victorian era. Every day tens of thousands of people would visit this adored animal known as “the Children’s Pet” or, more simply, “the Giant Elephant,” at the London Zoo. When P.T. Barnum purchased him for his Greatest Show on Earth, Jumbo’s transport to the U.S. made headlines for weeks, and he was an instant sensation in America. His name en ...more
Hardcover, 232 pages
Published April 15th 2008 by Steerforth (first published January 1st 2008)
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Badiss
Chambers traces Jumbo’s life from his capture in Africa through his long, often controversial residencies in Paris and London zoos to his last days in America. At the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, where the elephant arrived after a grueling nine-month journey, shockingly laissez faire treatment left him undersized, diseased and generally dispirited. He was sold to the Zoological Society of London, where mercurial and devious keeper Matthew Scott turned around his fortunes. Thanks to Scott’s nursi ...more
Kirsti
Naw, poor Jumbo :( what a sad story for almost all concerned, especially Jumbo and his trainer. This is a story I knew small facts about, but the story as a whole was unknown to me. This book follows Jumbo from capture to stardom and eventual death. The elephant whose name still lives in modern language was the first to be brought to Europe. After he was bought by a London zoo, he soon became a crowd favorite, especially with children. Eventually he came to America, amid public outcry from all o ...more
Kevin
This is a nifty little book. An elephant’s biography. Of course, not just any elephant, but the PT Barnum proclaimed greatest, biggest, other –ests in the world. Not to ascribe emotions and human motivations to him, but he was a complicated animal. Orphaned, marched across the Sahara, stuck in a “cell” in the Paris zoo and finally becoming a hero in London and America. But this is also a story about 19th c. zoos, our fascination with the exotic and animal behavior. Ultimately I think this is a t ...more
Laura Cushing
This is a an account of the most well-known elephant of all time, Jumbo. He became such a household name that 'jumbo' is now part of our language meaning big. At 11 feet tall, the elephant was surely that. Much more importantly though- he was the first African elephant most Europeans had ever seen. Jumbo tells the story of the elephant's capture in africa, his exhibiting in Paris and London zoos, and his travels with Barnum and Bailey circus. It is also the story of his trainer 'Jumbo' Scott, wh ...more
Vicki
Interesting read, I love fact/fiction based around the circus world of ages past - a golden age so rich in anecdotes, acts and colour, the good and the bad of a time when the Big Top was all and the owners, acts and animals were amazing characters and had many a tale to tell.

Fascinating to think of the journey Jumbo must have had from his birthplace to London and then on to America - when you think of travel from the 1890's it was some feat of ingenuity to transport him as a fully grown animal!

A
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Janet C.
Mar 16, 2012 Janet C. rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Janet C. by: n/a
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Gwen
This is a quick read about Jumbo, an African elephant captured and taken to France, then sold to the London Zoo, and eventually became part of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. It's an interesting story, but predictably distressing in parts. It's not like animal collectors and trainers in the Victorian Era were particularly kind, as a rule, so there are a number of horrible stories about animals dying, being injured, or being tormented. And Jumbo meets a sad end, as you'd expect. However, he was so ...more
Cheryl
Set in Victorian England, this is a meticulously researched true story of one of the most magnificent circus
elephants who ever lived. Jumbo was captured in Africa to be part of the collection of animals at zoos in Paris and London before finally becoming an important fixture at the Barnum, Bailey, & Hutchinson circus in the United States. Mr. Chambers vividly recreates Jumbo's world and the colorful figures who were part of it--a keeper who considered Jumbo his friend, a chilly zoo superinte
...more
Autumn Brady
Jumbo, the African Elephant, was Barnum and Bailey's Circus' greatest attraction and super star. Poor Jumbo, though loved by so many children/people he lived rather a tragic life. As an animal lover this was hard for me to read but Chambers does a beautiful job at remaining fair to everyone involved. This covers Jumbo's whole life, his capture as a calf, stays with zoos, time with the circus and then his death. There are a lot of historical facts described besides Jumbo's life like about zoo pra ...more
Fraser Sherman
3.5 stars. A good history of the legendary elephant whose name added a word for "really really huge" to the English language. Chambers follows Jumbo from his capture in Africa through his years at the London Zoo (where he was more dangerous and belligerent than most zoo-goers realized) and his later time as the star of Barnum & Bailey's Circus. A minor topic, but a good story.
Allison
Excellent! A biography and history of Jumbo the elephant, the Jumbo craze in the U.K., his controversial sale to Barnum, Bailey, and Hutchinson, and his short-lived but massively popular life in the circus. Poignant, surprising, and well-paced--Chambers deftly transforms his source material into fleshed-out, complex characters with amusing and sometimes tragic stories. Don't read Water for Elephants (because it is a very bad book); read this instead! It's a nonfiction version of the book WfE wan ...more
Amanda
This was a very interesting account of Jumbo's life. Very sad at times.
Judy
Every time I read about elephants, I am reminded of how intelligent and sensitive they are. This book is no exception. Chambers recounts the life of Jumbo and his weird trainer, Matthew Scott . Though it may sound like a goofy topic, I was interested from page one. Poor Jumbo was captured in Africa during the Victorian era and sold to the French. He then went to London and ended his life in the US as property of PT Barnum, etal. In spite of his sometimes difficult life in captvity, he was loved ...more
Tammy Crompton
A very interesting story about a long forgotten icon.
Kathy
I guess Ringling Bros. don't change training habbits ...
Darin
So, animal memoirs are my new favorite form of book. I've now expanded from monkeys and kitties to ELEPHANTS! This book was a fine, quick read. I cranked through it in a handful of days. Not the best one ever but it paints an interesting picture both of the life of Jumbo and the history of the time quite nicely. If you do read it, don't look at the pictures in the center of the book until you are done. They give away the ending. Stoopid spoilers.
Nicole
I read an excerpt from this book a while back and it sounded very interesting, so this seemed like a good follow-up book to "Water for Elephants" and I certainly can't complain about the elephant not getting enough air time in this one! :-) It was very interesting, though so sad too. It reminds me why I can't stand going to the circus. :-/
Korynn
A somewhat illuminating account of Jumbo, one of the first African Elephants to live in captivity. Although it seems to rely on rather dubious source material (and since so much time has passed no one can be interviewed regarding the events) that author has put together a short intriguing (and of course tragic) account of the captive life of an animal that managed to capture the hearts and minds of the public of two nations.
Melody
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jesse
Probably the best biography of an elephant I've read since "Babar," though I might be forgetting one or two. Being British, Chambers tells it pretty dryly, resisting the urge to make Jumbo a metaphor for Victorian England and/or PT Barnum-era America, and pretty much avoids all irrelevant tangents. Probably for the best, but I could've gone for more detail.
Linda
Jumbo This being the true story of the greatest elephant in the world. by Paul Chambers.
Story of how the famous Jumbo of Barnum and Baily Circus fame was captured, sold to England, came across the ocean and finally his dreadful death by a freight train. I have a fascination with elephants so I finished it, but it was not a page turner. 2 stars
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Megan
I'm not sure what I was expecting of this book - I realize you can't interview an elephant and then reveal his thoughts and feelings in a true biography - but I was disappointed in how dryly and clinically this read. It seemed to be more about the people surrounding Jumbo and the politics of animal husbandry than about Jumbo himself.
JayBee
This was worth the read for sure... It was an interesting story of Jumbo, the circus elephant. I am not a big fan of the circus and this was good to read from the history of the circus perspective. My home town in Connecticut has Barnum, Bailey and Jumbo as proud heritage painted on the side of a town building. Good book.
Katy
Pretty good book and an interesting story. "Modoc" the elephant was a much better story, how much you believe of it is up to you. This story was very factual and could have used a bit more dramatization. That being said I liked learning about Jumbo's trainer and I really felt for him.
Chris
This was surprisingly entertaining. I love elephants, but I didn't know that I would really care about an elephant that's been dead since the late 1800s.

Worth a read, the author does a good job of capturing the different personalities of all those who had an impact on Jumbo's life.
Kelly
This is a short and enjoyable read about a most famous elephant that helped to coin the phrase jumbo, for anything exceptionally large. I am surprised that I liked this book so much, and I learned a lot of things. I will probably look for more books by this author.
Maggie
I enjoyed Water for Elephants, so this book seemed to be a perfect non-fiction follow up to it. It was a quick read and rather interesting.
Andrea
A fascinating subject that I'd never really thought about before. I wasn't terribly thrilled with the author's writing style - a little too journalistic for my tastes - but he did manage to convey a good sense of the story and the times.
Julie
Interesting book, written recently but with the jargon and eloquence of an 18th century book. Just as much about the elephant's human keepers as about the elephant himself.
Kammy
Fascinating story about the elephant that took England and America by storm. Lots of tragedy, as would be expected for the 1880's era zoos and circuses, but a great story.
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“Were we to be engaged in a war . . we should become absolutely destitute of elephants. . .What would our children do without elephants to amuse them? What would the sick do without the sight of elephants to invigorate them?” 1 likes
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