The History of the London Zoo

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In The New York Times Book Review, Constance Casey reviews Isobel Charman’s “The Zoo: The Wild and Wonderful Tale of the Founding of the London Zoo: 1826-1851.” Casey writes:

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As we learn from “The Zoo,” Isobel Charman’s vivid, entertaining and scrupulously researched history of the London Zoo’s first years, the founders’ aim was to dispel human ignorance about God’s creatures. (Animals were firmly considered to be the work of an almighty hand; when the zoo was conceived in 1826, it would be 33 years before Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.”) For Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, originator of the project and president of the Zoological Society of London, the animals were to be “objects of scientific research, not of vulgar admiration.” Vulgar admiration was for shabby, for-profit menageries. Raffles, an officer of the East India Company and the founder of Singapore, acquired the land in Regent’s Park but died of a stroke at 45 before the zoo opened in 1828.

Charman recounts the history of the zoo through seven profiles, starting with Raffles, then moving on to an architect who cared more about the comfort of people than of animals, a beleaguered veterinarian, a taxidermist who fell heir to the veterinarian’s failures, Charles Darwin, a head keeper and an aristocrat with a hippopotamus obsession.

On this week’s podcast, Charman talks about “The Zoo”; R. L. Stine discusses scary stories for children; Alexandra Alter has news from the literary world; and Gregory Cowles, Jennifer Schuessler and John Williams on what people are reading. Pamela Paul is the host.

Here are the books mentioned in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:

“Londoners” by Craig Taylor

“Scars of Independence” by Holger Hoock

“Black Tickets” by Jayne Anne Phillips

“Priestdaddy” by Patricia Lockwood

“The Woman in White” by Wilkie Collins

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