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Love, War, and Circuses: The Age-Old Relationship Between Elephants and Humans

"An entertaining and enlightening romp through pachyderm lore." — Kevin Baker, author of Dreamland

"An extraordinary, fresh, and insightful book . . . Eric Scigliano writes brilliantly." — Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of The Hidden Life of Dogs and The Tribe of Tiger


"It is both unsettling and deeply consoling to stand beside a five-ton creature, born in the wilds of Africa or Asia . . . and to hear her purr, moan, snort, rumble, and sigh in a sonic syntax that seems nothing less than conversational. Her trunk . . . brushes, sniffs, and lightly prods you in a way that feels more like a human touch . . . than the cool exploration of a snake. Here, you cannot help but feel, is a peer, and intelligence charged with discernment, curiosity, even empathy." — from the Introduction

Elephants are everywhere. In February the CBS News program 60 Minutes ran a report on two New York City artists who went to Thailand to teach elephants to paint with their trunks. The resulting pieces, which have been compared to the works of expressionist Willem de Kooning, have sold at auction for as high as $2,000. Last year New York's Mulatta Records released a debut CD by the Thai Elephant Orchestra, an improvisational group of six young pachyderms playing traditional instruments, including slit drums, gongs, and harmonicas. And Kandula, a male Asian elephant born last November, receives hundreds of visitors a day at his home at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

What is it about these noble giants that so fascinates us? In Love, War, and Circuses: The Age-Old Relationship Between Elephants and Humans (Houghton Mifflin, June), Eric Scigliano explores the intimate and intricate relationship that has existed between humans and elephants since our beginnings. From their many quintessentially "human" abilities — throwing, weapon making, cooperative hunting, and food sharing — to their role as "evolutionary nursemaids," turning dense forest into grasslands that could support human life, elephants have, Scigliano suggests, played a more influential role in our history than dogs, cats, or horses, and are indeed our nearest natural peers.

Fascinated by elephants since his childhood in Vietnam, Scigliano traveled to Sri Lanka, southern India, Thailand, Burma, East Africa, and Japan to investigate how humans have interacted with and been enthralled by elephants for millennia — from Alexander the Great's narrow escape from the elephant corps of India and the ancient bones that probably inspired the myth of the Cyclops to the ivory trade, with its devastating consequences, and the advent of the American circus and trained show elephants.

The dual character of these beasts — gentle and mighty, rambunctious and exquisitely patient, adoring and given to rage and vengeance when abused — has inspired our reverence (the most popular Hindu god is the elephant-headed Ganesha) but also our fear. Industrialization has led to the destruction of natural habitats and the slaughter of thousands of elephants. As Scigliano tells us, the annihilation of these creatures, similar in so many ways to humans, leaves us to ponder the dilemma of our place in the world and our effects on the lives of other animals.

About the Author

Eric Scigliano, who has written for Outside, the New York Times, and many other publications, first became fascinated with elephants as a child living in Vietnam. He lives in Seattle.

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