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.)
Well-written and informative.”Foreign Affairs
[An] entertaining chronicle...Ivorys Ghosts admirably tells the story of this enchanting substance while making clear that as long as there are elephants, there will be ivory. Now, surely, it is ivory's turn to help ensure that there will always be elephants.”Leon Lazaroff, The Hartford Courant
Walker provides sensitive and insightful analysis...Ivory, he acknowledges, is as wondrous as the creatures that produce it...Walker sees the future of elephants not in an absolute ban on all ivory, but in a system of sustainable harvesting and wildlife management. Its a difficult balancing act, to be sure, but ivory can its bloody past...to become a self-renewing resource which can fund national parks, stabilize local economies, and preserve the impressive creatures that make it.”Laurence A. Marschall, Natural History
[A] tour de force examination of the history of ivory, humankind's lust for this exquisite treasure, and the demise of the elephant and human decency in the process of this unholy quest...Walker is a scholar and a perfectionist, but his meticulous examination of the allure of ivory reads like a novel that is impossible to put down...Whether you agree with this approach to conservation or not, read Ivory's Ghosts if you have any affinity for the history and future of this magnificent animal that has been sacrificed over the ages for what amounts to the white gold of its teeth...This book is a provocative, fascinating and compelling read. Highly recommended.”Georgianne Nienaber, The Huffington Post
Walker colorfully illustrates the [ivory] trades history...While Walker doesnt pretend to offer definitive answers to the threats these pachyderms face, understanding the importance of the issues he raises is critical to the survival of more than elephants. In this comprehensive work with a serious message, there is never a dull moment.”Anthony Brandt, National Geographic Adventure
Long before gold and gemstones held allure, humans were drawn to the jewels of the elephant”its great tusksfor 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 resultas 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 wrenchingand utterly compellingargument 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.