Susan's Reviews > The Medici Giraffe and Other Tales of Exotic Animals and Power

The Medici Giraffe and Other Tales of Exotic Animals and Power by Marina Belozerskaya
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's review
Apr 07, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: animals, history, kings-and-queens, nonfiction, read-in-2009, library-books
Read in April, 2009

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 prosperity and man’s dominion over all living things.

Beginning in 275 BC Alexandria, Belozerskaya takes the reader on a grand expedition using seven major periods of history as jumping off points –

•Ptolemy’s elephants and the first ancient arms race;

•the early Roman games at the Circus Maximus, featuring the brutal slaying of thousands of exotic animals;

•the use of the “Medici giraffe” as a political instrument to build the power of Prince Lorenzo the Magnificent, and enhance the position of the entire Medici family;

•New World animals and human oddities from Montezuma’s menageries as a symbol the conquests of Cortes;

•King Rudolf II and his unsurpassed collection of specimens of natural history from around the globe, used as an escape from his political woes;

•the Australian black swans of Josephine Bonaparte, as pawns in her lifelong attempt to acquire status and influence;

•and the private menagerie of William Randolph Hearst, used to alleviate his massive insecurities and the need to prove himself.

The Medici Giraffe ends with an epilogue from modern history: the story of giant pandas Hsing-Hsing and Ling-Ling, given as a gift from China to the United States during the Nixon administration, serving as animal ambassadors for their wild relatives, and symbolizing endangered animals all over the world and the conservation movement.

The Medici Giraffe covers all manner of animals: from lions, tigers, and bears, to tapirs, kangaroos, dodos and of course the giraffe. Exploring the critical roles animals have played in the history of civilization, Belozerskaya gives us a well-researched and academic account of animals and their many applications within the realm of international politics.

I would recommend The Medici Giraffe not only to animal lovers, but also to readers who enjoy politics, and history buffs, who would like to look at these stories of the past through new eyes. Although the extensive detail Belozerskaya provides can be a little dry at times, if you focus in on, and read just one of the seven sections at a time, you’ll find The Medici Giraffe to be informative and highly entertaining, and the kind of book that stays with you long after you’ve put it down.

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04/08/2009 page 49
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