Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Jumbo: This Being the True Story of the Greatest Elephant in the World” as Want to Read:
Jumbo: This Being the True Story of the Greatest Elephant in the World
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

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

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  194 Ratings  ·  54 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)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Jumbo, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Jumbo

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
Rating details
Sort: Default
``Laurie Henderson
Jan 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Even though Jumbo is an elephant I think he still qualifies as a rags to riches story.

Baby Jumbo was born in Sudan around 1860. With European zoos demanding wildlife from Africa a few enterprising Sudanese began capturing baby animals in order to sell them to European zoos.
Jumbo was the first baby African elephant to arrive in Europe and was sold to the famous French zoo.
The Asian elephants were already popular in Europe but the larger African elephant was much desired.

Transporting baby Jumbo t
Alissa Haley
Aug 13, 2017 marked it as to-read
For the record I am adding this to my Want to Read list ONLY because my hometown is where Jumbo was killed and I feel morally obligated to read this. (St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada. We literally have a statue dedicated to this poor guy.)
Aug 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: elephants, history
A compact, in-depth look at the life of one of the Victorian era's most famous animals. Jumbo experienced celebrity both in England (at the Zoological Gardens in London) and North America (under the ownership of PT Barnum and his associates). Chambers offers a well-written, accessible biography of Jumbo and his lifelong keeper Matthew Scott, while also examining attitudes towards treatment of animals and the behind-the-scenes business and personal clashes that dictated the elephant's life. This ...more
Jun 21, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Jan 18, 2016 rated it liked it
Parts of this book are so heartbreaking it was hard to read. Good book.
Mellanie C
Jun 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was a very interesting book from a humanitarian and a historic viewpoint. I'd always wondered where the trope of elephants being afraid of mice came from, and I extrapolated it from this book. In case you've also wondered: Elephants were often chained inside their cages to prevent them from going on rampages. This made them vulnerable to the rodents who infested zoos and circuses. The rodents would chew on the elephants' feet, and the elephants were helpless to stop it because they were vir ...more
Autumn Osborn
Jan 04, 2018 rated it it was ok
Depressing tale of animal abuse for the sake of human entertainment. The author repeated himself and the book moved slowly. Important details were left out, like how did the elephant eat/sleep/use the bathroom when it was trapped in a box for weeks? I’d recommend for the historical perspective but not because it’s a well told story.
May 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It is the first biography of an animal that I have read. Superior documentary of material and the time. Timely, now that the "Greatest Show on Earth" has just ended. It was the best book I've read recently!
Diane Lupton
Mar 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
read for the theme - author you have never read before
Janet C.
Jan 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  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.
Radford Secondary Library
A magical blend of true story and popular science, 'Jumbo' is the wonderful, colourful biography of the greatest elephant ever known. Born in Africa in 1863, Jumbo was orphaned by ivory-hunters, 'rescued' and taken to France. Mistaken for a runt, he was sold to London Zoo, where he became the favourite of the British populace, from Queen Victoria to the young Winston Churchill - until, talent-spotted by the American circus-owner P.T. Barnum, and despite public outcry and Royal protestations, he ...more
Laura Cushing
Jan 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
May 30, 2012 rated it liked it
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!

May 18, 2015 rated it liked it
It took me forever to get through this and I'm not sure why so I'll blame the writing. (Yeah, that's it!)

I do think there is some truth to that statement because the story of this African elephant's journey is very interesting. Unfortunately there is A LOT of time spent talking about the infighting among the keeper and the director of the London Zoo and even more time explaining exactly how much time it took to train Jumbo to walk into a crate. It's rather exhausting.

My advice - skip a bunch of
Nov 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
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
May 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Such a cool book. Written with meticulous detail seldom afforded a person. And this is about an elephant! Albeit the most famous elephant ever, and forever.

I though I might be in for a light romp through an elephant's 'fun' circus life. This is not that type of treatment, at all. The actual fun was discovering a bit of history I was unaware of. Now I know the origin of "jumbo sized" items, I'm schooled on the mascot of Tufts University (where my brother received his BS), and I've been exposed to
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
Aug 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Jumbo, the elephant that inspired "Dumbo" is overall a good read. There are definitely times when it's tough to find anyone to root for, however, as nearly all of the real characters are heartless or incredibly manipulative. This is a story that will help readers understand how zoos came to be, the savagely brutal way the animals were captured and treated, an egotistical keeper who loved Jumbo more than can be described but could never form a proper bond with a human, and the way that media back ...more
May 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 02, 2015 rated it did not like it
I fell head over heels for circus lore after reading Water for Elephants, and was dying to get my hands on some real-life circus stories. The story of Jumbo seemed a perfect place to start. But this book was sad from start to finish. I turned the last page feeling disappointed, and Chambers' tone suggested that he did as well. His last line, which quotes the adage, "The bigger they come, the harder they fall," paints Jumbo's life as ultimately a let-down.

Read more here: http://wordsonwordsrevie
Sep 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 12, 2011 rated it liked it
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.
Jun 22, 2008 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 07, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
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.
Apr 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
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. :-/
Mar 12, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
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.
Dec 21, 2007 rated it really liked it
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.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Committed: A Rabble-Rouser's Memoir
  • One at a Time: A Week in an American Animal Shelter
  • Zarafa: A Giraffe's True Story, from Deep in Africa to the Heart of Paris
  • The Elephant's Secret Sense: The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa
  • Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human
  • Babylon's Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo
  • Deer in the Headlights: My Life in Sarah Palin's Crosshairs
  • The Beauty of the Beasts: Tales of Hollywood's Wild Animal Stars
  • Behemoth: The History of the Elephant in America
  • How to Climb Mt. Blanc in a Skirt: A Handbook for the Lady Adventurer
  • Tom Thumb: The Remarkable True Story of a Man in Miniature
  • Titanic Thompson: The Man Who Bet on Everything
  • Ethics on the Ark: Zoos, Animal Welfare, and Wildlife Conservation
  • Fear of the Animal Planet: The Hidden History of Animal Resistance
  • The Great Swim
  • To The Elephant Graveyard
  • The Million Dollar Mermaid
  • The Art of Jaime Hernandez: The Secrets of Life and Death

Nonfiction Deals

  • The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery
    $14.99 $2.99
  • Real Artists Don't Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age
    $9.99 $1.99
  • Never Stop Walking: A Memoir of Finding Home Across the World
    $5.99 $1.99
  • Life Lessons from Matthew
    $5.99 $1.99
  • The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness
    $11.99 $3.99
  • Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America
    $9.99 $2.99
  • The Voice of Knowledge: A Practical Guide to Inner Peace
    $9.99 $2.99
  • My Mother Was Nuts
    $5.99 $1.99
  • Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and the American Dream
    $7.99 $0.99
  • Final Vows
    $9.99 $2.99
  • Chosen by a Horse: a memoir
    $9.99 $1.99
  • Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made
    $17.99 $1.99
  • John Quincy Adams
    $12.99 $3.99
  • Easy Soups from Scratch with Quick Breads to Match: 70 Recipes to Pair and Share
    $15.99 $2.99
  • The Fifth Agreement: A Practical Guide to Self-Mastery (A Toltec Wisdom Book)
    $9.99 $2.49
  • No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green
    $6.99 $1.99
  • The Prize: Who's in Charge of America's Schools?
    $12.99 $2.99
  • People Over Profit: Break the System, Live with Purpose, Be More Successful
    $13.49 $0.99
  • The Supreme Gift
    $2.99 $1.49
  • Fly a Little Higher: How God Answered One Mom's Small Prayer in a Big Way
    $9.99 $1.99
  • Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why
    $9.99 $2.99
  • How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain
    $5.99 $1.99
  • But I Could Never Go Vegan!: 125 Recipes That Prove You Can Live Without Cheese, It's Not All Rabbit Food, and Your Friends Will Still Come Over for Dinner
    $18.50 $3.99
  • Life Lessons from Ephesians
    $5.99 $1.99
  • A Marriage in Dog Years
    $4.99 $1.99
  • Trusting God Day by Day: 365 Daily Devotions
    $11.99 $2.99
  • Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids
    $13.99 $1.99
  • Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation (Kindle Edition)
    $9.99 $2.99
  • Once Upon a Time in Russia: The Rise of the Oligarchs—A True Story of Ambition, Wealth, Betrayal, and Murder
    $11.99 $2.99
  • Manage Your Day-To-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind
    $5.99 $1.99
  • The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home
    $11.99 $2.99
  • The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates
    $11.99 $1.99
  • The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever
    $7.95 $2.49
  • Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacy
    $12.99 $3.99
  • Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited
    $4.99 $1.99
  • Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman
    $11.99 $1.99
  • The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success: A Practical Guide to the Fulfillment of Your Dreams
    $9.99 $1.99
  • The Reaper: Autobiography of One of the Deadliest Special Ops Snipers
    $9.99 $2.99
  • Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In
    $9.99 $2.99
  • Decluttering at the Speed of Life: Winning Your Never-Ending Battle with Stuff
    $9.99 $1.99
  • Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands
    $9.99 $1.99
  • Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe
    $17.99 $1.99
    $9.32 $3.49
  • The Devil Soldier: The American Soldier of Fortune Who Became a God in China
    $11.99 $1.99
  • Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate
    $9.99 $2.99
“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
More quotes…