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Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives

3.95  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,322 Ratings  ·  375 Reviews
Welcome to the savage and surprising world of Zoo Story, an unprecedented account of the secret life of a zoo and its inhabitants, both animal and human. Based on six years of research, the book follows a handful of unforgettable characters at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo: an alpha chimp with a weakness for blondes, a ferocious tiger who revels in Obsession perfume, and a brilli ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published July 6th 2010 by Hachette Books (first published 2010)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jan 11, 2011 Jennifer rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I’ve always felt conflicted about zoos. On the one hand, I enjoy seeing the animals up close and personal. On the other hand, I always feel guilty. No matter how big or “friendly” their habitat, I still feel a bit melancholy when I see magnificent wild animals living their lives in such an unnatural way. Then I try to make myself feel better by telling myself that they might be better off in a zoo—safe from poachers and other dangers found in the wild. In short, like many others, I have a love/h ...more
I found stacks and stacks of this book in a neglected corner during a Borders going-out-of-business sale. It was odd for me, because I hadn't heard of it at all. So I picked it up and took it home. (How could I not? It had elephants on the cover and promised to be a behind-the-scenes look at a zoo.)

It was over and above anything I was expecting. It is, in fact, the first in-depth look at the personal life of zoos that I've been able to find. French, a journalist with no zoo ties, does an admira
Apr 01, 2011 Laura rated it it was amazing
I caught myself constantly wanting to shout "Yes! You sooo get it!" throughout this book. It manages to capture all of the ethical quandaries and essentially "doublethink" games keepers face every day when taking care of exotic animals in a zoo. It's a highly conflicted field and French does a wonderful job of summarizing it. I can even forgive his occasional digressions into utterly ludicrous flowery prose.

On a personal note, Enshalla the tiger's story is one out of my nightmares. Literally. I
Aug 14, 2010 carissa rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
Welcome to the savage and surprising world of Zoo Story, an unprecedented account of the secret life of a zoo and its inhabitants, both animal and human. Based on six years of research, the book follows a handful of unforgettable characters at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo: an alpha chimp with a weakness for blondes, a ferocious tiger who revels in Obsession perfume, and a brilliant but tyrannical CEO known as El Diablo Blanco.

Zoo Story crackles with issues of global urgency: the shadow of extinction,
Apr 04, 2015 Ellen rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
There are so many superlatives I can use to review this book. It's riveting, fascinating, heartbreaking, funny and a real page turner. It's the story of the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa Florida. It tells the story of the rise, fall and rise again of America's Number One Family Zoo and all the characters in it both human and animal. Everyone from the obsessive dictatorial CEO Lex Salisbury to Herman the King of the Chimpanzees to Enshala the Sumatran tiger whose keeper sprays Obsession around her grot ...more
Todd Martin
Nov 04, 2010 Todd Martin rated it really liked it
Many people hold ambivalent feelings about zoos. Without them, most would never have the opportunity to see many of the beautiful and fascinating animals with whom we share the planet. Zoos also offer the best hope for the continued survival of threatened species whose habitats we’ve obliterated through our profligacy. Yet there is an unease that comes with holding wild animals in captivity.

In “Zoo Story”, Thomas French examines these complex and often contradictory issues at the Lowry Park Zoo
Dec 03, 2011 Ashley rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Animal advocates
Shelves: favorites
I think most people are either for zoos or against them. I don't really like the idea of any animal being kept in captivity, but this book presented a rational argument for the need for zoos - one which didn't sugarcoat their dark histories and sad anecdotes. I was initially drawn to the book because it was written based on testimonies and experiences occurring at or revolving around Lowry Park Zoo in St. Petersburg, Florida. I'd been visiting that zoo ever since I was a little girl. French begi ...more
Sep 21, 2012 Kathleen rated it liked it

Interesting subject matter presented in a convoluted manner. Story lines would end abruptly and then pick up later in the middle of another tangent. Rather than build suspense or deepen our appreciation of a particular point, this jumbled writing style left the reader frustrated and trying to remember the finer details of previous chapters. The lack of flow hurt the story.

Second, I think the book also suffered from too many themes: was this mostly about the displaced elephant pod; an inventory
Oct 05, 2010 Preeti rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, animals, zoo
I picked up this book at the library as I do many of my books - randomly cruising the animal/conservation related shelves in the non-fiction section. As I was just about to start reading, my friend told me the author had appeared on The Colbert Report. So of course, I had to check that out. I was surprised to see that Colbert actually let him talk during the interview, which is unusual, but I think it may have been because the subject was not "political" per se.

I absolutely enjoyed this book, as
May 09, 2014 Andrew rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book that was about Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo. The author did an excellent job changing back and forth between the story of the animals and the story of the humans involved. In fact, some of the most interesting parts of the book are when he compares the habits of the two. The look behind the cages at the world and lives of the zoo keepers was particularly interesting, but the best part of the book was the story of the rise and fall of Lex Salisbury, the zoo's CEO. As a Tampa ...more
Jan 28, 2014 Kari rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Thomas French reported exhaustively on the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Fla., for this fascinating and beautifully written book. Beginning with the transport of elephants imported from a game park in Swaziland, the book explores the delicate balance between conserving endangered animals and exploiting them for profit.

I really appreciate the end notes that let readers know exactly where he got his information. The opening of the book reads as though French were on the
May 15, 2010 Trish rated it it was amazing
This marvelous examination of the motivations and mandates behind the zoo industry raises all the expected questions and allows the reader to make their own judgements. Both sides are adequately represented, and the humanity, as well as the...animality (? take that as a parallel for the animal side) of the business is emotional and heartfelt. The acknowledgements thank Yann Martel, the author of Life of Pi for showing the author the possibilties in imagining an inner life for animals. It is a st ...more
Costen Warner
Apr 07, 2013 Costen Warner rated it it was amazing
This was an amazing book. I love animals. They bring joy, life and intrigue to our world. This book questions keeping animals in captivity and I still don't know if humans protecting animals in zoos is the best way to care for them. I do know my life has been enriched by my experiences at many zoos, museums and aquariums. I don't know if that is best for the animals and the planet. Everyone should read this book.
Sep 02, 2015 Diane rated it it was amazing
I have been thinking about how to write this review because I feel my background played a large part in my enjoyment of this book. I went to school for photography and journalism, married into the circus business for a short time and then ended up living in Tampa from 1996-1999. I purchased this book a while ago because Lowry Park Zoo was my go to place anytime I needed to escape, clear my head, or just want to be around the animals. I enjoyed the layout of the zoo. I loved that they rehabilitat ...more
Jun 05, 2014 Joella rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 26, 2010 Anna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
Such an interesting and nuanced book behind the scenes at Tampa's Lowry Park zoo! Thomas French understands the importance of zoos in keeping alive highly endangered species and introducing the public to the world out there, at the same time as the lives of the animals are clearly changed by their captivity. The book opens with 11 elephants on route from Swaziland to Florida and San Diego because the Swaziland park can no longer support the number of elephants there. PETA files several injunctio ...more
April Helms
Sep 28, 2010 April Helms rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This book is a series of stories, more or less in chronological order, about the Lawry Park Zoo in Tampa, about its zoo keepers, its animal residents and more. French not only does a good job conveying the humanity of the animals in the zoo, but he captures the animal nature and "signals" humans make, showing we aren't as distant from the beasts as we may like to think. Readers will find out about the history of the likes of Enshalla and Herman, two of the more famous residents there, as well as ...more
Mar 01, 2011 Kate rated it really liked it
I have a fascination with animals of all kinds, and I love zoos in a totally nerdy way. Granted, I of course suffer from the same ambivalence that most people do when I really examine it, and I think the author did a great job at expressing this feeling. He really didn't make any grand statement about zoos being evil, on the contrary he seemed just as torn as anyone is with the question of whether to hold an animal captive.

The stories about the animals at the zoo were so interesting, and I absol
Apr 04, 2014 Susan rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed reading this book and how the author gives us a much broader look at all aspects of what a zoo can be.
This book gives you an in depth look at an animal kingdom striving to adapt to living in confined areas rather than living the life the way Mother Nature intended.
The author gives us a perspective of the benefits of keeping animals in a zoo, but also presents to us the sadness of seeing some wonderfully magnificent creatures being locked up. He writes about how the Lowry Zoo in
This book starts off with eleven elephants from an African preserve who are being flown to two different zoos in America. We follow the story of the four elephants who end up at Lowry Park in Tampa. The book then goes behind the scenes of some of the animals at the zoo, their keepers and the man who had a major role in Lowry Park at the time. It is still a conflicting topic. Should animals be held in captivity? No but sometimes it really is not so simple. My heart breaks for animals who are take ...more
Bridget Bailey
Jul 21, 2014 Bridget Bailey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is my first book by this author and I truly enjoyed it. I thought it was going to be a book more about specific elephants but it actually was a book about a specific zoo in Florida. It starts out about specific elephants and ends up weaving a great story about monkeys, tigers and other zoo animals. I really enjoyed the writers style of writing which gave great detail while also holding my interest regarding the animals and the zoo and the zoo employees. It was really interesting to see what ...more
Sep 09, 2011 Babs rated it really liked it
Would highly recommend this read to all homo sapiens who work and/or live in group situations. A human ethnography that sheds so much light on our behaviors-- from the CFM (come f*** me) heels (girls you are presenting posteriors like your simian cousins) to the posturing & chest pounding of alpha males. In addition to the clever juxtaposition of human and animal behaviors, the author retells the Shakespearean drama, and constant ethical conundrums faced by 21st c. zookeepers. This story all ...more
Mar 04, 2016 Addie rated it it was amazing

Thomas French, a well known journalist, wrote the book Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives. The prime premise of this astonishing book is to uncover the secrets of zoos. As many people are aware, zoos have had clashes with society due to the fact of some zoos having cases of abuse with some of their animals. This book explains that controversy while stating real facts that Thomas French gathered. French has visited tons of zoos all over the US and observed all the animals and their zookeep
Jan 14, 2015 Cereus rated it it was amazing
It has been a long time since I've been this captivated by a creative nonfiction book. I'll admit, I have a bit of love for the genre, but for some reason it's always really hard for me to finish books in this genre.

That being said--this was fantastic. It was unbelievably good. The character of both the people AND the animals were amazingly fleshed out. Each and every chapter was a gem and each and every animal could have had their own book.

This is probably the most balanced description of the w
Michael Willis
Mar 21, 2016 Michael Willis rated it did not like it
I admit I didn't finish this book. I listened to the first few hours of the audio version.

The author frequently "decided" what other people/animals were thinking or feeling. For example when describing a bird aviary where lorikeets would land on people, he wrote something along the lines of "People would say 'whoa' and not realize they said anything". How does he know they didn't realize they said anything? How does he know what they were thinking or feeling? Did he watch them and then walk up t
Nov 09, 2014 Kristin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An enlightening look at what goes on behind the scenes at a zoo, in this case, Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo, which was going through a very profitable period for much of the time the book covers. Prior to this, the zoo had become run down and the target of animal rights protests due to the animals being in obvious cages and the death of a keeper in the zoo's former elephant exhibit.
The book opens with the arrival of the zoo's new elephants to a brand new 'savannah'-like exhibit that mimics the grassla
Helen Dunn
May 23, 2016 Helen Dunn rated it really liked it
Shelves: library
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 19, 2016 Hank rated it liked it
This detailed look at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo reveals two things about zoos that are a bit disturbing: first, the well-being of animals is not always the top priority (French's story about how a female elephant is handled as the zoo tries to obtain a baby elephant illustrates that point) and, second, tragedy happens in zoos (read the book). I found the focus on Lowry Park Zoo's former CEO to be a bit of a distraction from what should have been the main point - whether zoos are an ethically valid ...more
Apr 09, 2016 Andrew rated it really liked it
An interesting look behind the scenes at Lowry Park Zoo in the early 2000s.
The caretakers, the CEO, the animals, it's all a compelling story of their interactions and hard work.
Worth a read if you've ever been interested in why people work at zoos and what they hope for.
Dec 24, 2014 Sam rated it it was amazing
I've increasingly become very wary and uncomfortable with the ideas at zoos so leapt at the chance to read a book that took a look behind the scenes. It truly was a real insight. The book was very well written and drew me into each of the animals stories. I became really invested in each of those animals! I still truly believe animals belong in the wild but it is clear how most zoo keepers genuinely care for and love those captive animals. I do see the potential for breeding and conservation but ...more
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Thomas French, a Pulitzer prize-winning reporter, has spent the past quarter century redefining the possibilities of journalistic storytelling, both in his writing and in his teaching around the world.
French grew up in Indiana and attended journalism school at Indiana University’s Bloomington campus, where he was a Poynter scholar and editor-in-chief at the Indiana Daily Student, and where he won
More about Thomas French...

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“Despite all their flaws, zoos wake us up. They invite us to step outside our most basic assumptions. Offered for our contemplation, the animals remind us of nature’s impossibly varied schemes for survival, all the strategies that species rely upon for courtship and mating and protecting the young and establishing dominance and hunting for something to eat and avoiding being eaten. On a good day, zoos shake people into recognizing the manifold possibilities of existence, what it’s like to walk across the Earth, or swim in its oceans of fly above its forests—even though most animals on display will never have the chance to do any of those things again, at least not in the wild.” 10 likes
“All zoos, even the most enlightened, are built upon the idea both beguiling and repellent—the notion that we can seek out the wildness of the world and behold its beauty, but that we must first contain that wildness. Zoos argue that they are fighting for the conservation of the Earth, that they educate the public and provide refuge and support for vanishing species. And they are right. Animal-rights groups argue that zoos traffic in living creatures, exploiting them for financial gain and amusement. And they are right. Caught inside this contradiction are the animals themselves, and the humans charged with their well-being.” 9 likes
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