Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Elephas Maximus by Stephen Alter

elephant bookThis book follows the author as he travels around India to nature preserves and sanctuaries seeking encounters with Asian elephants, both wild and domesticated. Though not a scientist, he reminds me of a livelier version of those amateur Victorian naturalists as he weaves anecdotes and facts into a an intriguing portrait of what is familiarly known as the Indian elephant, one of two remaining species (the African elephant is the other). He contrasts the two via biological differences and evolution, before turning the spotlight back onto the Asian one. The book’s title is the Latin name of that species.
Woven through the book are references from art, literature ancient and modern, cinema and religion. It’s remarkable to see how the elephant has affected the culture in that part of the world, probably akin to the horse in northern Europe and the U.S. He explores the many ways in which humans have affected and interacted with elephants in India, from poaching to using them as status symbols and as armored instruments of war. One of the most disturbing is a temple which keeps elephants celibate, even chaining them up during musth(breeding season), yet another instance of imposing religious rules on other beings in a senseless way. I much preferred his accounts of watching herds of elephants in the wilds, though the parks and wilderness areas are shrinking more each year, which dismays me. This book helps our understanding of a magnificent animal, which emphasizes why there must be continuing efforts to preserve it.
Harcourt, Inc. 2004 320 pp. ISBN 0-15-1006446-6

Jackie hasn’t painted elephants lately, but she has done pictures of other endangered wildlife. You can see some of them at her art page .

One comment on “Elephas Maximus by Stephen Alter

  1. Pingback: Eritrean elephant mystery in ancient Gaza battle solved | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)