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Ivory's Ghosts: The White Gold of History and the Fate of Elephantsby John Frederick Walker
Synopses & Reviews
Long before gold and gemstones held allure, humans were drawn to the jewels of the elephant--its great tusks. Ivory came to be prized in every culture of the world for its beauty and rarity and ability to be finely carved. Starting in the Ice Age, when ivory was first imbued with symbolic importance, John Frederick Walker takes the reader on a journey that traces the material's sensuous, creamy-white gleam through the fabric of human history, and shows how trade in this much-desired material came to shape human--and animal--history. Each age and each culture, from ancient Egypt, Rome, India, and China, to medieval Europe and the Muslim world, to nineteenth-century America and Victorian Britain to modern Japan, found its own artistic, religious, decorative, functional, extravagant, and even industrial uses--sensuous figurines, sacred icons, scientific instruments, pistol grips, and piano keys--for the remarkable, ever-so-carvable material that comes from the teeth of elephants and a handful of other mammals. Walker lays bare the ivory trade's cruel connection with the slave trade and the increasing slaughter of elephants in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. By the 1980s, elephant poaching reached levels that threatened the last great herds of the African continent and led to a worldwide ban on the ancient international trade in tusks. But the ban has failed to stop poaching--or the emotional debate over what to do with the legitimate and growing stockpiles of ivory recovered from elephants that die of natural causes. Ivory's Ghosts is an engrossing narrative that layers rich history, first-person reporting, and deep reflection into a book that will inform, entrance, andmove the reader.
"With a mix of appalled testimony and meticulous research, Walker (A Certain Curve of Horn) traces the story of ivory from Paleolithic times to the present and the devastation the ivory trade has wrought on African and Asian elephants — by one estimate, 2.8 million were killed between 1850 and 1914. At the height of the 19th century craze for ivory — which included a savage dependence on slaves to transport tusks to African trading centers — it was used for sacred artifacts, piano keys, pistol grips, toothpicks and billiard balls. By the 1980s, poaching threatened the last herds in Africa, leading to a worldwide ban on international trade, but with unintended consequences from laws so restrictive no ivory could be sold at all. By 1994, nine African nations had stockpiled 100 tons of 'pickup' ivory, harvested from elephants that had died a natural death. This 'great gift that the elephant leaves at the end of its life,' writes Walker, should be sold to help conserve endangered herds, a controversial proposal that spotlights the deep divide between ardent supporters of continuing the ban and conservationists concerned about the future of the elephant, now 'more important than the treasure it supplies.' 16 pages of illus." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Long before gold and gemstones held allure, humans were drawn to the jewels of the elephant”—its great tusks—for their beauty, rarity, and ability to be finely carved. In Ivorys Ghosts, John Frederick Walker tells the astonishing story of the human lust for ivory and its cataclysmic implications for elephants. Each age and each culture, from ancient Egypt to nineteenth-century America and modern Japan, found its own artistic, religious, and even industrial uses for the remarkable material that comes from the teeth of elephants and a handful of other mammals. Sensuous figurines, scientific instruments, pistol grips, and piano keys were all the result—as was human enslavement and the wholesale slaughter of elephants. By the 1980s, elephant poaching threatened the last great herds of the African continent and led to a worldwide ban on international trade. But the ban has failed to stop poaching, and debate continues over what to do with the legitimate and growing stockpiles of ivory recovered from elephants that die of natural causes. An insightful history of this precious commodity, Ivorys Ghosts is also a wrenching—and utterly compelling—argument for a controversial mode of wildlife conservation: a controlled return to the ivory trade.
Walker takes the reader on a journey that traces the ivory trade through human history, and shows how exchange in this much-desired material came to shape human--and animal--history.
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History and Social Science » World History » General