Kingdom Under Glass
A Tale of Obsession, Adventure, and One Man's Quest to Preserve the World's Great Animals
By Jay Kirk
(Henry Holt and Co., Hardcover, 9780805092820, 400pp.)
Publication Date: October 26, 2010
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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A sweeping historical narrative of the life of Carl Akeley, the famed explorer and taxidermist who changed the way Americans viewed the conservation of the natural world
During the golden age of safaris in the early twentieth century, one man set out to preserve Africa's great beasts. In this epic account of an extraordinary life lived during remarkable times, Jay Kirk follows the adventures of the brooding genius who revolutionized taxidermy and created the famed African Hall we visit today at New York's Museum of Natural History. The Gilded Age was drawing to a close, and with it came the realization that men may have hunted certain species into oblivion. Renowned taxidermist Carl Akeley joined the hunters rushing to Africa, where he risked death time and again as he stalked animals for his dioramas and hobnobbed with outsized personalities of the era such as Theodore Roosevelt and P. T. Barnum. In a tale of art, science, courage, and romance, Jay Kirk resurrects a legend and illuminates a fateful turning point when Americans had to decide whether to save nature, to destroy it, or to just stare at it under glass.
Jay Kirk's nonfiction has been published in Harper's, GQ, The New York Times Magazine, and The Nation. His work has been anthologized in Best American Crime Writing 2003 and 2004, and Best American Travel Writing 2009 (edited by Simon Winchester). He is a recipient of a 2005 Pew Fellowship in the Arts and is a MacDowell Fellow. He teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Pennsylvania.
"Kingdom Under Glass reminds me of Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo--a mesmerizing, true story of a magnificent obsession."—Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind
"One might say that an author who stumbles across the story of a man who wrestles a leopard to death, stuffs the first Jumbo for Barnum & Bailey, and perfects the art of mounting dead gorillas really can't go wrong. But Jay Kirk has created such a boisterously good-natured account of the life of the great taxidermist and conservationist Carl Akeley that a tale already well-nigh-incredible becomes in his hands just wonderfully sensational. This is a true gem of a book, well worthy of its extraordinary subject."—Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman and Atlantic: a Biography of the Ocean
"A jungle adventure story into the heart of Africa, at first, and then, what might seem like the campy world of taxidermy and those great museum dioramas but, ultimately, Jay Kirk is telling the story of the man who taught America how to see nature."--Jack Hitt, author of Off the Road
"Until reading Kingdom Under Glass I didn't think it was possible to use the words "fascinating" and "taxidermy" in the same sentence (at least not with a straight face)...but much of the book is about preserving dead animals, and fascinating it certainly is. This is thanks to gonzo narration by Jay Kirk, who has also written on travel and true crime. His prose is daring - sometimes even a bit wild - and he worms his way convincingly into the minds of his subjects."--The Washington Post
"With a scholar’s relish and a novelist’s narrative flair…Kirk conjures the life and exploits of early 20th century taxidermist Carl Akeley."--Mother Jones
"A genuinely rip-roaring read!"--Booklist
"A beguiling, novelistic portrait of a man and an era straining to hear the call of the wild."--Publishers Weekly
"Kirk skillfully illuminates an era that saw ‘a dawning of sensitivity to the plight of wildlife’... The author shines in his reanimation of Africa’s inherent dangers as Akeley risked his life on safari battling ravenous leopards, charging elephants, five-hour hikes without rations and debilitating fevers—including the one that would take his life in 1926. The feral escapades of a creative wunderkind stitched together with novelistic zeal." --Kirkus Reviews
"In Kingdom Under Glass, Kirk strives for the same liveliness that Akeley imparted to his creations, writing with such specificity, color and drama it appears he's looking over Akeley's shoulder."--BookPage
“Akeley is immortalized in Kirk's account as the man who forever changed not just taxidermy but also the way Americans saw nature..."Kingdom Under Glass" is an epic display of one man's life…The closing scene is emotional, real and incredibly detailed, a final meaningful diorama in a book full of them.”--San Francisco Chronicle
"In painting Akeley's lifelong passion for preserving rare animals and tying it to modern-day conservation and environmental goals, Kirk brings together Victorian and modern ideas about nature and humankind in smart, sensitive ways."--The Boston Globe
"With novelistic details, Kirk's book re-creates the adventures of a brooding genius who went big-game hunding with Theodore Roosevelt and invented a new camera that revolutionized photography and film."--USA Today