Reviews for Between Man and Beast : An Unlikely Explorer and the African Adventure the Victorian World by Storm

Kirkus Reviews 2012 December #1
Former Washington Post reporter Reel (The Last of the Tribe: The Epic Quest to Save a Lone Man in the Amazon, 2010) offers a fascinating sidelight on the perennial debate of man's origins. In the decade before the publication of Darwin's On the Origins of Species, evolution was already a hotly debated topic. The naturalist Richard Owen, a contemporary of Darwin, was considered the foremost British anatomist of his day. A proponent of the theory of evolution, Owen believed that the Creation was not a one-time event as reported in the Bible, but a continuous process. However, he opposed the notion that man was kin to primates. He compared the skulls of primates and humans, on display at the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in London, hoping to establish "taxonomical lines…between humans and apes." Reel weaves together the fierce contentions about the theory of evolution among leading Victorian scientists and the story of young African explorer Paul Du Chaillu. In 1852, Du Chaillu (an African claiming to be of French descent) was educated by American missionaries in Gabon. He subsequently traveled to America, where he obtained funding for an expedition to hunt African gorillas. When he returned to the U.S. with their preserved remains, the Civil War had begun and the financial support he expected was withdrawn. In 1861, after writing a book about his exploits, Owen invited him to London. There, his book was published and he became an overnight celebrity, for a time overshadowing Darwin in the popular imagination. Ultimately, Du Chaillu was accused of embellishing his account. A lively footnote to the debate between science and religion and the exploration of the African jungle in the Victorian era. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2012 October #2

The legend of some dangerous, near-mythical beast--the gorilla--galvanized Westerners in the 1850s, when Paul Du Chaillu headed to equatorial West Africa to see what he could see. Three years later, he emerged with amazing stories and amazing specimens, which landed him in the midst of the heated debate about Darwin's theory of evolution. Du Chaillu's mysterious background started some whispers, too. Adventure, history, nature, big ideas--what more could you want?

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Library Journal Reviews 2013 March #1

In 1856, explorer and amateur naturalist Paul du Chaillu undertook a treacherous expedition through West Africa, after which he brought back to England the first known specimens of the African gorilla ever seen there. Reel (The Last of the Tribe: The Epic Quest To Save a Lone Man in the Amazon) examines the colorful life and times of du Chaillu. He ably depicts how du Chaillu's hugely popular expedition chronicle, Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa, and his unnervingly humanlike preserved gorilla specimens ignited a storm of interest and controversy in the scientific circles of Victorian England. While Reel clearly admires his subject, he is also willing to address and evaluate du Chaillu's errors and exaggerations; he presents a balanced portrait of the enigmatic explorer, effectively combining du Chaillu's life story with related historical context on scientific debates about evolution. His detailed depiction of du Chaillu's detractors occasionally slows the narrative. Today's readers may find du Chaillu's penchant for killing gorillas repugnant, although he followed the standard scientific practice of the time. VERDICT Best suited to general readers interested in African exploration, gorillas, or the history of science in the Victorian age. They may also be interested in du Chaillu's original best seller, as well as Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, thought to be partially inspired by du Chaillu's adventures.--Ingrid Levin, Salve Regina Univ. Lib., Newport, RI

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 September #1

Although he's not well known today, Paul Du Chaillu was one of the Victorian era's most famous explorers. He was the person who brought the gorilla to the attention of Europeans. In response to his fame, he was attacked mercilessly by competitors who claimed he was a fraud who fabricated his tales of African exploration. Reel (The Last of the Tribe) provides a robust intellectual history by embedding Du Chaillu's story within the debate over evolution, the relationship among the human races, the rise of Christian fundamentalism, and the nasty backbiting that was common in the scientific arena of the time. He expertly probes the history of the enigmatic Du Chaillu, someone who purposefully shrouded his past from scrutiny, in large part, according to Reel, because his likely mixed race parentage would have scandalized upper-class British mores, destroyed his reputation, and turned him into an outcast. In Reel's hands, Du Chaillu's adventures in Africa, including his discovery of Pygmies and his part in a smallpox epidemic, were no less harrowing than his interactions with many of the world's leading scientists and explorers. Agent: Larry Weissman, Larry Weismann Literary, LLC. (Mar.)

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