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.
Kirk, who teaches creative writing at the University of Pennsylvania, offers a rollicking biography of Carl Akeley, an American taxidermist who preserved realistic-looking beasts complete with aura of "will," for 20th-century natural history museums. (His breakthrough was papierma che .) But alive beats lifelike, so the author spends most of the book following Akeley's African safaris, where he hunts big game and touring tycoons who might fund his projects. These chapters combine epic adventure Akeley endures waterless marches, fever, and bloody maulings by a leopard and an elephant with the offbeat love story of Akeley and his crackshot wife, Mickie, who is forever rescuing and nursing her husband. (The marriage dissolves when Mickie essentially falls in love with a pet monkey who tears up their New York apartment.) A talented literary taxidermist, Kirk spruces up the story's anatomy with dramatic "inferences" imagined scenes and imputed streams of consciousness and heroic cameos including a memorable turn by Akeley's safari companion, Theodore Roosevelt. The result is a beguiling, novelistic portrait of a man and an era straining to hear the call of the wild. Photos.