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The Lady and the Panda: The True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China's Most Exotic Animalby Vicki Croke
Synopses & Reviews
Here is the astonishing true story of Ruth Harkness, the Manhattan bohemian socialite who, against all but impossible odds, trekked to Tibet in 1936 to capture the most mysterious animal of the day: a bear that had for countless centuries lived in secret in the labyrinth of lonely cold mountains. In The Lady and the Panda, Vicki Constantine Croke gives us the remarkable account of Ruth Harkness and her extraordinary journey, and restores Harkness to her rightful place along with Sacajawea, Nellie Bly, and Amelia Earhart as one of the great woman adventurers of all time.
Ruth was the toast of 1930s New York, a dress designer newly married to a wealthy adventurer, Bill Harkness. Just weeks after their wedding, however, Bill decamped for China in hopes of becoming the first Westerner to capture a giant panda — an expedition on which many had embarked and failed miserably. Bill was also to fail in his quest, dying horribly alone in China and leaving his widow heartbroken and adrift. And so Ruth made the fateful decision to adopt her husband's dream as her own and set off on the adventure of a lifetime.
It was not easy. Indeed, everything was against Ruth Harkness. In decadent Shanghai, the exclusive fraternity of white male explorers patronized her, scorned her, and joked about her softness, her lack of experience and money. But Ruth ignored them, organizing, outfitting, and leading a bare-bones campaign into the majestic but treacherous hinterlands where China borders Tibet. As her partner she chose Quentin Young, a twenty-two-year-old Chinese explorer as unconventional as she was, who would join her in a romance as torrid as it was taboo.
Traveling across some of the toughest terrain in the world — nearly impenetrable bamboo forests, slick and perilous mountain slopes, and boulder-strewn passages — the team raced against a traitorous rival, and was constantly threatened by hordes of bandits and hostile natives. The voyage took months to complete and cost Ruth everything she had. But when, almost miraculously, she returned from her journey with a baby panda named Su Lin in her arms, the story became an international sensation and made the front pages of newspapers around the world. No animal in history had gotten such attention. And Ruth Harkness became a hero.
Drawing extensively on American and Chinese sources, including diaries, scores of interviews, and previously unseen intimate letters from Ruth Harkness, Vicki Constantine Croke has fashioned a captivating and richly textured narrative about a woman ahead of her time. Part Myrna Loy, part Jane Goodall, by turns wisecracking and poetic, practical and spiritual, Ruth Harkness is a trailblazing figure. And her story makes for an unforgettable, deeply moving adventure.
"During the Great Depression, inexpensive entertainment could be had at any city zoo. The exploits of the utterly macho men who bagged the beasts also made good adventure-film fodder. Yet one of the most famous animals ever brought to America — the giant panda — was captured by a woman, Ruth Harkness. Constantine Croke, the 'Animal Beat' columnist for the Boston Globe, became fascinated by bohemian socialite Harkness, who was left alone and in difficult financial straits in 1936 after her husband died trying to bring a giant panda back from China. Instead of mourning, Harkness took on the mission. Arriving in Hong Kong with 'a whiskey soda in one hand and a Chesterfield in the other,' she soon found herself up against ruthless competitors, bandits, foul weather and warfare. Luckily, she was accompanied by the handsome and capable Quentin Young, her Chinese guide and eventual lover. This gripping book retraces their steps through the isolated and rugged wilderness where pandas hide, and then back to America, where the strange bears took the West by storm. Despite her remarkable journey, Harkness was derided and ignored by male adventurers. In dusting off this exciting tale, Constantine Croke (The Modern Ark: Zoos Past, Present and Future) returns Harkness to her rightful place in the top rank of zoological explorers. B&w photos. Agent, Laura Blake Peterson. (On sale July 5)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[Croke] was given access to Harkness' letters to her closest friend, and the detail she gleaned from this correspondence gives such intimacy to the text that it simply pulls the reader in." Booklist (Starred Review
"Croke...provides a rich and thoroughly engaging story of a captivating and remarkable woman. This well-written, exhaustively researched and documented book should be on every library's shelves. Highly recommended." Library Journal
"Vicki Constantine Croke's account of Ruth Harkness' obsessional journey belongs on every animal freak's bookshelf..." Newsday
"Croke makes the most of this rich material. She tells the story well, provides an abundance of panda lore and touches on all the relevant issues..." San Jose Mercury News
"The Lady and the Panda winds up stranger than fiction but no less poignant. Ms. Croke has worked hard — with an effort that often shows — to give it dramatic shape." New York Times
"It all adds up to a wonderful adventure, as much about the Chinese people and the preservation of a species as it is about Harkness' spiritual awakening." Orlando Sentinel
"A remarkable journey beautifully described, The Lady and the Panda brings to life one of the most astonishing and overlooked stories of American adventure, the 1936 quest by Ruth Harkness to bring a giant panda to America. Vicki Constantine Croke's canvas is the mystical and wondrous China of the 1930s, her heroine a most remarkable woman, and her gift the ability to understand that this is a great love story." Robert Kurson, author of Shadow Divers
"Mesmerizing. Vicki Croke has done a magnificent job of immersing the reader in an absolutely fascinating world. I found myself completely absorbed and could not stop reading. Amazing." Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, author of When Elephants Weep
"Ruth Harkness, the New York socialite who journeyed into the wilds of China to bring the Giant Panda to America, now has the biography she deserves. In Croke's hands, the intrepid American woman and the con men, dreamers, and adventurers who joined her in pursuit of the world's most exotic animal spring vividly to life. Part Hemingway, part Treasure of Sierra Madre, The Lady and the Panda is a rare blend of adventure, biography, and zoology. A deeply satisfying read.? Stella Dong, author of Shanghai
The Lady and the Panda is the true story of Ruth Harkness, bohemian socialite and dress designer, who in 1936 headed into one of the most dangerous corners of the world to search for the most mysterious animal of the day. It was quest that many men had tried and failed at miserably — some, like her husband, dying in the attempt. Indeed, everything was against Ruth Harkness: her sex, her city softness, and her complete lack of experience. But with the help of her dashing guide, with whom she became romantically involved, Harkness succeeded. The lady and the panda became an international sensation.
Boston Globe columnist Croke reveals the true story of Ruth Harkness, a bohemian socialite and dress designer who in 1936 took over her dead husband's expedition into Tibet to capture the first live giant panda.
About the Author
Vicki Constantine Croke has been covering pets and wildlife for more than a decade, and writes the "Animal Beat" column for the Boston Globe. A former writer and producer for CNN, she has been a contributing reporter for the National Public Radio environment show Living on Earth and consults on film and television projects, most recently a two-hour documentary on gorillas for the A&E channel. Croke is the author of The Modern Ark: The Story of Zoos?Past, Present and Future, and has also written for Time, People, the Washington Post, Popular Science, Gourmet, National Wildlife, Discover, International Wildlife, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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