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The Zoo: The Wild and Wonderful Tale of the Founding of London Zoo: 1826-1851
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The Zoo: The Wild and Wonderful Tale of the Founding of London Zoo: 1826-1851

3.42  ·  Rating details ·  254 ratings  ·  57 reviews
The founding of a zoo in Georgian London is a story of jaw-dropping audacity in the Age of Empire. It is the story of diplomats, traders, scientists, and aristocratic amateur naturalists charged by Sir Stamford Raffles with collecting amazing creatures from all four corners of the globe.

It is the story of the first zoo in history, a weird and wonderful oasis in the heart o
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published April 4th 2017 by Pegasus Books (first published November 3rd 2016)
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Colleen no, there are passing mentions of , for instance snake charmers doing exhibits with the snakes, and elephant handlers coming from other countries and …moreno, there are passing mentions of , for instance snake charmers doing exhibits with the snakes, and elephant handlers coming from other countries and living by the animals, but no mention of what you are referring to

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Start your review of The Zoo: The Wild and Wonderful Tale of the Founding of London Zoo: 1826-1851
I have only myself to blame. You know when they say 'don't judge a book by it's cover' it is actually sound advice and not just one of those implausible sayings like 'two head are better than one' - really? How are you going to get your clothes on then?

I looked at the back cover and read the description, a book about the founding of London Zoo, great! But oh, good grief. You know how books are made into films, but also how sometimes a novelisation is made from a film - this is not so much a non-
May 05, 2017 rated it liked it
Book received from NetGalley.

Prior to reading this book, I believed the London Zoo was started when the animals of the Tower of London were moved to a better living area. I had no clue just how wrong I was. This book goes into the founding of the Zoological Society of London and the aristocracy that fought to bring the zoo to life. So different from what I believed. I have to admit this book will not interest everyone, and I did skim a few areas that seemed to drag which is why I lowered the rat
K.J. Charles
A novelisation of history, in the "Queen Victoria fiddled with her rings and frowned as her gruff yet reliable Prime Minister, William Gladstone, entered the room" style throughout. Whether you find this a good approach to non-fiction, or indeed readable, is very much a matter of personal taste. DNF about three pages in. ...more
Dec 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is either a three or a four, depending on how much you love learning about the first zoo in the world.

Or rather, how much you love learning about what Lord someone said to Lord someone else, as they tried to found the first zoo. Yes, it started out quite slowly, but after the first chapter, it started to move on to more interesting things, such as the first veterinarian, and how Edward Lear and Charles Darwin became involved in the zoo.

It is a sad book, at times, as we see animal after ani
Mar 11, 2017 rated it it was ok
Reader, I skimmed this book. Isobel Charman’s The Zoo: The Wild and Wonderful Tale of the Founding of London Zoo, 1826-1851 is the kind of historical writing that I loathe, unfortunately. While Charman did her homework by digging through the archives of the Zoological Society of London, she writes this history as though it’s a novel, full of little vignettes of city life and the thoughts and emotions of the men who created London Zoo. The Zoo’s history is, on its own, interesting enough to susta ...more
Feb 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Charman does a wonderful job in describing the beginnings of the London Zoo. Each chapter highlights a different time period and a individual or individuals who were involved with the zoo during that time period including, a zoo keeper, a founder, gardener and an animal doctor. Even Charles Darwin gets a chapter for he was a corresponding member of the zoo and used the resources of the zoo in his work and research. I think I was most shocked at the deaths of a lot of the animals that came to liv ...more
Nov 26, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Reviewed for The Bibliophibian.

The cover promises the “wild and wonderful” tale of the founding of the London Zoo, but it isn’t really very wild, though you might decide it’s still wonderful in its way. It certainly was a heck of a task, and the fact that the London Zoo still exists is amazing considering some of the difficulties they had. The style is rather fictionalised — mentioning exactly what Charman imagines the protagonists of the story think and feel — and it doesn’t always stick very c
I enjoyed reading this book, although I do have mixed feelings about the effectiveness of
mixing historical facts with a fleshed out novelisation of occurrences presumably found in correspondence and other sources. I think it only works occasionally here.

My biggest qualm with this book is about the chapter on Darwin, which seems like an attempt by the author to shoehorn a famous person into the story. But I felt like that had nothing to do with the origins of the London Zoo, or only casually at
May 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I throughly enjoyed this book and so it’s really 4.5 stars. I liked the way each chapter was from a different person who had been involved with the zoo in some way over its peaks and troughs over those early years of its life. There is some sad points to the book in regards how by any means necessary to make it a success but it if we don’t sometimes push the boundaries things that have now become better would not happen. I know some feel zoos are unnecessary and might take from this book an even ...more
Review to come :)
Rena Sherwood
You think that at my age (48) I would stay away from any book that has a subtitle that goes something like, "The Wild and Wonderful Tale of ..." because the resulting book will be anything BUT wild and wonderful. And yet, idiot that I am, I read this anyway.

The second warning sign that I ignored was that the chapters were devoted to PEOPLE and not animals. This is supposed to be the story of a zoo. I want to read about ANIMALS. If I wanted to read about people, I'd pick up some other book.

The t
May 20, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Alex Howard
I think I understand what the author was trying to do with this book, to try and put some empathy into the main players involved in the founding of London Zoo. But the problem with this as a way of retelling real events is that too much of the story is concerned with wondering and imagining what a particular person was thinking or feeling at any given moment. The problem with having a non-fiction story that weaves fact with what 'probably happened' means that you spend the whole read wondering w ...more
May 19, 2017 rated it liked it
I liked the approach that led me into the history that felt like I was reading a novel. It was exciting that the founder, Sir Stamford Raffles, had the idea to create a Zoo for England that would improve on the one in France. He had begun collecting specimens to be brought back from his stint working for the East India Company but they burned aboard ship and he had to begin again. Like any start-up now, he had to interest rich people who would be ardent Zoological amateurs or professionals in gi ...more
Carolyn Thomas
Aug 01, 2017 rated it liked it
Ms. Charman takes the unusual approach of writing about the founding of the London zoo from the perspective of various people connected with it, from Sir Stamford Raffles (1824 - 1826) whose vision it was to create London's very own "Jardin des Plantes" like the one in Paris, a place where animals could be observed and studied and not just enjoyed by the rich, to the Earl of Derby, President of the Zoological Society of London from 1847 - 1851.
In between are chapters on: architect; medical atten
Jenn Morgans
As a warning: I wouldn’t read this if you really LOVE animals - as is typical for the first half of the 19th century, there’s a lot of mistreatment of them, and even when they have the best of intentions, the keepers have no idea how to look after them, and so many animals die, many of them in tragic, easily preventable ways.

Charman’s way of approaching this subject - by writing seven chapters, each from an almost novelised perspective of people important to the zoological society - has been co
Fran Johnson
May 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, animals-zoos
The London Zoo is the first of its kind. Before its founding only very wealthy people, Kings, Queens, and aristocrats had private collections of animals and beautiful but private gardens. Nothing was available to the general public. It was a time of change when Sir Stamford Raffles charged diplomats, scientists, aristocratic lovers of nature to seek out and bring collections of animals together in a place where all could enjoy them. However, admittance for the general public was still limited to ...more
Georgy Wilband
I enjoyed reading what are basically mini biographies of the people involved in the first few years of the London Zoo. It made me want to know more about the people themselves and about the Zoo. An 'industry' which I have worked in and have my own personal experiences of what it is like to work in a zoo (all be it a rather small one). At it's depths is the fundamental idea that the London Zoological Society was set up to educate and inform and NOT as entertainment. Although without the draw of t ...more
John Newcomb
Sep 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book. Seven very different people, all involved in the founding and development of London Zoo, are considered in a semi fictional account but intricately researched consideration of this unmatched institution. You have famous figures like Sir Stamford Raffles ( the founder), Decimus Burton (the architect) and Charles Darwin (the scientist) along side the head keeper with his alcohol problems, an animal doctor (before vets were a thing) and a skin preserver (whose work is st ...more
Sep 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: serious-studying
A very interesting account of the early days of London Zoo. As an animal lover, I found there were more sad stories than happy ones; but it's interesting to see how attitudes towards animals have changed over the years.
Despite its initial difficulties however, I find myself more in favour of the zoo than before. I'm not an anti-zoo person anyway but this is a tale of real effort to observe and learn about animals rather than simply entrap them for human pleasure. The fact that, to this day, the
James Butcher
Dec 02, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Zoo is a well written and researched book, following the formative years of the Zoological Society of London and its collection in Regents Park, now known as London Zoo. Charman cleverly writes each chapter from a different character's perspective, including that of the great Charles Darwin. The narrative follows the ups and downs of the collection, facing difficulties of illness, fatalities and shipping animals across the globe. The novel is excellently researched with Charman accessing a w ...more
Jul 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, nonfiction
Very enjoyable story of the founding of the London Zoo, told through mini-biographies of many of its founders. The book flows right along, with fascinating (and frequently appalling) detail -- very well written, very well researched, with a believable presentation of some interesting people. It's a hard read -- I think that zoos perform a critical part in the chain of conservation, but when you're taking a look at the behavior of early naturalists, the loss of life they casually deemed acceptabl ...more
Jan 07, 2018 rated it liked it
The history of the London Zoo has some intriguing elements to it, but this novel fails to inspire excitement. Sectioning the timeline into individual characters allows for a focus on little-known names, but it also detracted from a cohesive narrative with payoff. For example, Darwin’s story fades away, as does the mystery of why the big cats keep dying. If one wants to understand sentence fragments, there are plenty to study here. Odd switches between verb tense also kept drawing me out of the n ...more
Margo Kaestner
Feb 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
The story of the birth and early years of the London Zoo, started by the Zoological Society of London, walks the reader through the multiple perspectives of impactful intellects who played a role in developing this menagerie. The reader receives insight from Charles Spooner (the Zoo/s first vet), Charles Darwin, Burton (whose architecture built the infrastructure of the Zoo), the zoo's first head keeper, Earl of Derby who led the society as its president and ultimately secured a hippopotamus to ...more
Oct 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-nature
an early history of the London zoo, which focuses on the various people who " built " it. There is the architect, the veterinarian, the zookeeper, the animal preservers and illustrators and many more. This is a very hard book for an animal lover to read. The author does not sugarcoat anything. These people knew very little about the animals they were trying to collect and display and it is brutal. Still, they were trying to move from a menagerie mentality to a focus on science , education and e ...more
Jul 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Well researched and interesting book about the beginning of the modern zoos. I have not been a fan of zoo since I was about 4 or 5. I remember the sad, bored animals cooped up in small enclosures behind bars. They really hadn't changed much over the century at that point.
Tho' I hear they have improved through the years, I guess, but not nearly enough for me to visit... And their new function in helping species survive, I'm not sure I buy it yet.... Zoo's just break my heart.
Nov 25, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like the way this was written and the different identities and their stories.

However it made me so sad to hear about the hundreds of animal deaths. I understand especially at that time man's curiosity and also complete ignorance to the needs of wild animals and I know the world learnt a lot from this organisation, it was just not nice hearing about the visitors behaviour and the greed.

I thought this would be a positive and inspiring story but it made me a little depressed.
Jo Bullen
May 01, 2018 rated it liked it
This wasn't quite what I expected, being several short stories covering a range of different people involved in the early set up of London Zoo. It was interesting for the most part, though the writing style was odd in places, and it would have benefited enormously from some illustrations of the architecture, layout in London, etc. I do want to find out more about the Zoo now from a more rigorous source. ...more
Mar 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
A truly fascinating tale of the beginnings of the London Zoo, procurement of animals, difficulties trying to keep them alive in transit and after they arrive in London, the politics of acquisition of land or animals, and the aristocracy who often had their own private "menageries" competing for purchase. At this time, also, lived a man with a different agenda for procurement of species: Charles Darwin.

A winner by all accounts.

I read this EARC courtesy of Edelweiss and W W Norton. Pub date 04/04/
Daniel Farabaugh
May 30, 2018 rated it liked it
This book had good moments especially in the early years of the zoo. It does a good job illustrating the development of the zoo and its problems. As the book goes along, it loses focus. Instead of explaining how the early problems were solved, it goes on a long digression about Darwin and his tangential relationship to the museum.
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