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Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  2,937 ratings  ·  423 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
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Average rating 3.98  · 
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 ·  2,937 ratings  ·  423 reviews

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Jan 11, 2011 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
Sep 08, 2010 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 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,
Oct 16, 2011 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
Feb 17, 2015 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
Sep 07, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am glad I listened to this challenging and thought-provoking audiobook. ZOO STORY is not simply about cute and clever exotic animals. Instead, it's an examination of the complex ethics, motivations, and responsibilities involved in animal captivity, through the trials and tribulations behind-the-scenes at one nationally-known Florida zoo.

I'm an animal advocate, but I do not blindly follow what this-or-that group says. Instead, I strive to research the issues and form my own opinions. I do not
Sep 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: animals, favorites, 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
Sep 16, 2012 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
Todd Martin
Oct 31, 2010 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
Apr 26, 2014 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 11, 2014 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
Aug 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Through the story of one zoo, an examination of zoos: What do they mean? How have they evolved? Is there a place for zoos in our culture? Are they doing a good job?

These are important questions these days, as in the news a gorilla has just been shot, a child fell into an enclosure and died - zoos across America are grappling with fluctuating purpose and strong opinions about what they do.

The multilayered narrative is fascinating - wild Swazi elephants transported to America, one tough tiger who
May 14, 2010 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
Mar 25, 2013 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.
Jenna Vahue (Goldilocks Reads)
I have to be very judicious with this review and be very careful with what I have to say. I am closely involved with the zoo mentioned in the book and I felt that it did the institution a great disservice, even as I tried to maintain an objective perspective. The writing had a very slanted view against the zoo rather than the ambivalence associated with most nonfiction. I felt that the author wrote pompously and tried to imput his personal opinion rather than his professional. He is a journalist ...more
Vicky Hunt
Captivating Look at Animal Behavior

A panoramic view of animal life from the wild to zoo life, Zoo Story begins in the tiny country of Swaziland, which recently had a name change to Eswatini. Many details are provided about the national parks and the operation of zoos. But, the animals themselves are the most fascinating part of the story. From elephants who bury their own dead, to transporting elephants by air, to great predator cats breeding and rituals; the reader gets a 'birds-eye view' of th
Sep 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
What it is:
An elegantly written (though flowery at times) multi-character story about the life-cycles of a zoo and its inhabitants, both non-human and human.

Who should read it:
People who have difficulty with the concept of zoos, people who think zoos are terrible, and people who think zoos are great. This will get all three groups to think, and that is a testament to its mostly objective storytelling.

Why I liked/disliked it:
I struggled to get into this one because it was front-loaded: it started
Jul 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. fascinating. I learned alot, was amused by the animal stories, and interested in the lives of the people surrounding the zoo. That says alot.
Jul 12, 2015 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
Aug 20, 2010 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
Aug 19, 2010 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
April Helms
Sep 28, 2010 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
Jan 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 30, 2014 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
Aug 18, 2011 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 unf ...more
Bridget Bailey
Jul 15, 2014 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
Nov 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best tales I have read in a long time. Halfway through I found myself telling the stories of elephants and chimps to anyone who would listen. Thomas Frank appears to be a phenomenal journalist who tells it like it is. If you ever wondered what it was like to try and rebuild a zoo, this is the book for you. I always thought it would be an awesome job to work at a zoo, but his in depth coverage would definitely make me think twice.
Tom Mueller
Sep 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing
An engaging read about the inner lives of several species kept at the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa. French delves into the animals' psyches, making comparisons to their human keepers. This work also details the brouhaha surrounding the downfall of the Zoo's long-time CEO, Lex Salisbury.
Jennifer Tuggey
Aug 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book was so well written, emotional and evenly covering everyone's point of view. It was impossible to not become attached to the animals at the zoo in Tampa, and to find yourself thinking about the issue of captivity long after the last page. Very glad I read it.
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Librarian Note:
There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

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

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68 likes · 16 comments
“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.” 10 likes
“Taken together, the narratives of how the animals ended up at Lowry Park revealed as much about Homo sapiens as they revealed about the animals themselves. The precise details—how and where each was born, how they were separated from their mothers and taken into custody, all they had witnessed and experienced on their way to becoming the property of this particular zoo—could have filled an encyclopedia with insights into human behavior and psychology, human geopolitics and history and commerce. Lowry Park’s very existence declared our presumption of supremacy, the ancient belief that we have been granted dominion over other creatures and have the right to do with them as we please. The zoo was a living catalogue of our fears and obsessions, the ways we see animals and see ourselves, all the things we prefer not to see at all. Every corner of the grounds revealed our appetite for amusement and diversion, no matter what the cost. Our longing for the wildness we have lost inside ourselves. Our instinct to both exalt nature and control it. Our deepest wish to love and protect other species even as we scorch their forests and poison their rivers and shove them toward oblivion.
All of it was on display in the garden of captives.”
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