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Kingdom Under Glass: A Tale of Obsession, Adventure, and One Man's Quest to Preserve the World's Great Animals

3.85  ·  Rating Details  ·  239 Ratings  ·  51 Reviews
A sweeping historical narrative of the life of Carl Akeley, the famed explorer and taxidermist who changed the way Americans viewed the conservation of the natural world

During the golden age of safaris in the early twentieth century, one man set out to preserve Africa's great beasts. In this epic account of an extraordinary life lived during remarkable times, Jay Kirk foll
Hardcover, 387 pages
Published October 26th 2010 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published January 1st 2010)
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A promising subject rendered curiously inert

I wish I had liked this book more. Really, I do. I was certainly prepared to like it. Golly - big game hunting in Africa, Teddy Roosevelt, lingering tropical illnesses, high caliber weapons, faithful retainers, murder, danger, and intrigue – it certainly sounded like my cup of tea. This is the tale of a man who kills a leopard with his bare hands, for crying out loud, not to mention this wonderful opening passage, which drops the reader right into one
Dec 08, 2014 Elizabeth rated it liked it
Carl Akeley is the man that created the African Hall for New York's Museum of Natural History. His obsession with taxidermy and recreating animals as they exist in nature caused him to put his own life in peril more than once.

This book has a good amount of research and is interesting in that it discusses an art that I have never given much thought to before. My own museum of natural science has scenes from Africa and I must say, I always hoped the animals were simply fake. I never fathomed someo
Dec 11, 2010 Nathan rated it did not like it
This was supposed to be great. With an element of a real-life King Kong meets Solomon's Mines, it shouldn't have been anywhere near as boring as it was.
Kirk seems reluctant to let his story tell itself, which is weird: what help does a taxidermist's safari in the African wilderness need? But he can't help interjecting awkward turns of phrase and inconsequential events into his unfocused narrative. Annoyingly pallish, swaggeringly flippant-- I just hated the tone of this book. If you really like
Maria Headley
Jan 26, 2011 Maria Headley rated it it was amazing
This was one of my favorite books of 2010. I may be biased - I know the author - but the reason I know him is that I loved his work for Harper's, and tracked him down years ago to tell him so. If you haven't read any of Kirk's work, I suggest you remedy that immediately. His writing is extremely smart, strange, and well-researched. There's an article about the Florida panther in this archive that has haunted me for years.

Onto Kingdom Under Glass. A little
Ms. Ahart
Jun 02, 2016 Ms. Ahart rated it it was ok
Yes, this was a "thrilling tale of adventure" with accompanying purple prose and I'm glad I know so much more about the beloved AMNH dioramas... but it was absolutely chilling to read a book written now that so completely ignores the brutal realities of Africa under colonial rule and that continually dehumanizes every African mentioned in the book (which, to be true, probably came right out of all Kirk's primary source references... but come on, man! NOT COOL.) Read King Leopold's Ghost: A Story ...more
Jun 02, 2016 Melissa rated it it was ok
Yes, this was a "thrilling tale of adventure" with accompanying purple prose and I'm glad I know so much more about the beloved AMNH dioramas... but it was absolutely chilling to read a book written now that so completely ignores the brutal realities of Africa under colonial rule and that continually dehumanizes every African mentioned in the book (which, to be true, probably came right out of all Kirk's primary source references... but come on, man! NOT COOL.) Read King Leopold's Ghost: A Story ...more
Sep 26, 2015 Stephen rated it liked it
Shelves: owned

At the turn of the 20th century, Carl Akeley revolutionized the art of taxidermy. Prior to his work, preserving an animal involved stuffing the skin with paper and sawdust, resulting in a comically ill-defined monstrosity that only vaguely resembled the original animal. Akeley was unsatisfied, and spent many years perfecting his craft, trying different methods (such as using wire mesh and clay sculptures under the hide) to truly bring the animals to life.

I suppose whenever discussing the book th
Jun 01, 2014 Gail rated it really liked it
This biography of Carl Akeley, a taxidermist who was primarily responsible for the African Hall at the American Museum of Natural History, tells a tale of his obsession with displaying the fauna of Africa behind glass before it becomes extinct. This, of course, necessitates the killing of the animals he claims to glorify. He leads several expeditions to Africa, where he kills many more animals than he needs, searching for the perfect specimens for his dioramas. He ruins his health in the process ...more
May 27, 2012 Ryan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: colonial, nature
This book should've been great, after all the life of Carl Akeley was movie-worthy, filled with high adventure on the dark continent of Africa at the height of its imperial conquest. It turned out to be disappointingly flat, as the author tried too hard to be sensational, while in reality, a large part of Akeley's time in Africa was actually filled with tedium and monotony - trudging through miles of inhospitable terrain with nary an encounter with the native wildlife. By the time the truly hair ...more
Zohar -
Nov 05, 2010 Zohar - rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2009
Disclaimer: I got this book for free.

Kingdom Under Glass" by Jay Kirk is a historical fiction - biography tale, set in the late late nineteenth - early twentieth century, about the great taxidermist & conservationist, inventor and sculptor Carl Akeley, his wives Delia "Mickie" Akeley and second wife Mary Jobe Akeley.

Akeley is a legend, I'm surprised I haven't heard of him before this book. On a jungle expedition he killed a leopard with his bare hands, somehow survived an elephant attach, st
Dec 28, 2010 Julie rated it really liked it
Shelves: own, vine, non-fiction
I almost feel bad for being the first reviewer to give this book less than 5 stars on Amazon, but I must admit, by the end, I was ready to be done with it. It was a great depiction of life in the midst of the Industrial Revolution and a fascinating portrayal of Carl Akeley. Describing his passion for revolutionizing taxidermy and also his contributions to filmmaking, Akeley’s life was written with great enthusiasm on these pages. He was a (somewhat obscure) legend whose works can still be marvel ...more
Feb 21, 2011 Frank rated it it was amazing
For a book that was a lucky draw from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program, this was quite a fortuitous catch for me. Natural history has always been one of my interests, and to get the opportunity to read a biography about the man responsible for the African Hall of Mammals at the American Museum of Natural History was incredible.

Kingdom Under Glass examines the life and career of celebrated taxidermist Carl Akeley. The book traced his training at a school for taxidermy, where Akeley began to
Ryan Holiday
Jul 05, 2012 Ryan Holiday rated it really liked it
My chase for interesting animal anecdotes has taken me to some weird books from Pliny to Borges, but Kingdom Under Glass is one that I think most people would enjoy. It's about Carl Akeley, an early 20th century adventurer, inventor, friend of Teddy Roosevelt and, strangely, the world's greatest taxidermist (he actually taxidermied Jumbo the Elephant.) The book is so well-written and meticulously researched that it almost feels patronizing to talk about it like that -- like I'm trying to compens ...more
Nov 15, 2013 Brittany rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, biography
This is such a good book. It's one of those that, after failing to hear your name called three times at the pool because you were reading this book, people finally ask "What are you reading?" To which I got to reply, "It's this really captivating biography. Of a taxidermist."

Which is what it is. Carl Akeley was a taxidermist, and an extremely gifted artist, who revolutionized the field of museum display and interpretation. But he was also a tireless inventor, who drastically improved the motion
Feb 25, 2011 J.R. rated it really liked it

A lifelong interest in natural history, fascination with Africa and admiration for Carl Akeley all combined to draw me to this book. I wasn’t disappointed. I consider it the most absorbing book I’ve read so far this year.

Kirk’s novelistic approach, coupled with a thorough collection of notes supporting the narrative, makes it an engrossing biography and tale of adventure and obsession.

Anyone who has seen Akeley’s work has to admire the skill which made him not simply a craftsman, but truly an ar
Aug 29, 2012 Toby rated it it was amazing
Most biographies that I read are dry books that read like poorly written college history books. You can usually expect it to be third person recounting of facts and dates, often, they aren't even strictly narrative. Not so with Kingdom Under Glass. Jay Kirk wrote this in a narrative style that assumes to know the details of events and the thoughts of characters that he can't possibly know. While some people might argue whether that adheres to some kind of morale code for non-fiction books, it de ...more
This is a biography of Carl Akeley, a pioneering taxidermist whose work has been seen by millions in the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Interesting life, interesting story, but I don't like the way it was told. It's a blend between a historical novel and a non-fiction biography. Author Jay Kirk, in the end notes, acknowledges that he took an unorthodox approach. He's a professor of creative writing, but a lot of times his creative approach was overly self-indulgent. In chapter 1 ...more
Dec 26, 2010 Meg rated it liked it
A well-written book about taxidermist and adventurer Carl Akeley. I had difficulty engaging in this book's subject. I especially had difficulty with the characters who bemoaned the possible extinction of large-game species while shooting them (ostensibly for science, but given the number of bodies that were abandoned, this is hard to fathom). A rather bleak portrait of turn-of-the-century ecology, racial prejudice, and eugenics.

Merged review:

A well-written book about taxidermist and adventurer C
Danielle T
Taxidermy, especially at the museum level fascinates me as a merger of science and art. Carl Akeley is considered to be the father of modern taxidermy, and this book follows his life from boyhood to dying on his last trip to Africa. Jay Kirk takes some liberties depicting scenes using words people said from various memoirs or letters, but I appreciated it as it kept an interesting narrative for a fascinating man. Also included: Teddy Roosevelt, attitudes about conservation and evolution from the ...more
Erika Harada
Jun 30, 2011 Erika Harada rated it really liked it
This book was the most entertaining biography I've ever read. Some of it, of course, has to do with my interest in the subject matter -- I'm enamored by the dioramas at the AMNH -- but most was due to the fact that Kirk has an extraordinary writing style. It's perpetually gripping and engaging, and brought the characters of Carl Akeley, his wife Mickey, and their friends and colleagues to life.
I also enjoyed how it could never in a million years could be considered a hagiography. Racist attitude
Elizabeth Desole
Sep 30, 2012 Elizabeth Desole rated it really liked it
Definitely not for the squeamish.
There are many graphic descriptions of hunting and taxiderming(?) the animals that now make the amazing dioramas at the AMNH (natural history museum in nyc).
The man, Akeley was so driven and quite brilliant. As with many such people, he was also a raging a**hole. Wow! The level of egomania and hypocrisy is staggering. For him and Teddy Roosevelt-who has a minor part in the book.
The writing is interesting though may be written in too folksy a manner for biography
Feb 13, 2012 Mairi rated it it was ok
I had a really hard time with the narration of this book. The fiction-like telling pulled me out of the story again and again. As a post-script, Kirk acknowledges the unconventional narration and assures the reader that conversations were fleshed out from primary sources but, going through those sources, it seemed like he was mostly taking Akeley's word for it. (Akeley's personal account of his travels and life was a very frequently cited source.) The allegations of abuse of his first wife seeme ...more
Jul 29, 2011 Brandy added it
Kind of mixed reactions to this book. On the one hand, I feel like the author's exciting narrative style made certain stories stick in my mind in a way in which I'll never forget them. Very captivating. I also like how much attention he gave to Ackley's first wife, Mickie, really showing how much a part of his success she was. On the other hand, I was ready for the book to be done about 3/4 of the way through. Maybe just because I was really bored with the African safaris and watching all of the ...more
Joshua Poje
Oct 10, 2014 Joshua Poje rated it really liked it
Fun read about the life and work of Carl Akeley, the man behind many of the displays at The Field Museum and the AMNH. It borders on novelization in places--with mixed results.
Darla Ebert
Apr 03, 2014 Darla Ebert rated it it was amazing
Very enjoyable, as both history and as a book about gorillas! I had no idea this particular episode from history even existed. But there was Teddy Roosevelt, among others! Very interesting on so many levels

Nick Colen
Jul 01, 2012 Nick Colen rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is a must read for fans of history,adventure,art, nonfiction,and just good books.
This is the story of both the birth of conservationism and the birth of the modern museum written with a strong emphasis on narrative this is one of those treasures of non fiction that goes to show real life can be just as exciting and strange as the most wild fiction. I found the style to be reminiscent of "the devil in the white city" and just like that book it proves the point that a scholarly work need
Daisy Church
Aug 24, 2015 Daisy Church rated it it was amazing
Great book- loved reading about this time of American and African history, esp in regards to conservation and museums.
Anne With
Jun 15, 2015 Anne With rated it it was amazing
A fascinating true life tale of a man and his obsession with preserving the perfect animal specimen.
Oct 02, 2014 Derek rated it liked it
engaged w/ it here:
Feb 16, 2011 Laura rated it really liked it
Fascinating read about about Carl Akeley THE taxidermist who wanted to preserve the great animals of the world in case they became extinct. Ironically he ended up killing a lot of them that didn't get used. Lots of famous people like Teddy Roosevelt, PT Barnum, George Eastman and others were a part of his life. He worked at the Milwaukee Museum for several years besides the Field Museum in Chicago and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. I enjoyed reading about his trips to Africa ...more
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“Upon finding the letter, I had one of those out of body experiences that come only after poring over archival material for nine hours straight, most of it dull as dust, but then something like this appears and you look around at the two or three other glaze-eyed researchers and want to go around the room and give everyone a high-five, but instead you just get up and quietly go to the water fountain, then make a notation for photocopy, and crack the next folder.” 1 likes
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