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Between Man and Beast
Cover of Between Man and Beast
Between Man and Beast
An Unlikely Explorer and the African Adventure the Victorian World by Storm
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In 1856, Paul Du Chaillu ventured into the African jungle in search of a mythic beast, the gorilla. After wild encounters with vicious cannibals, deadly snakes, and tribal kings, Du Chaillu emerged with 20 preserved gorilla skins--two of which were stuffed and brought on tour--and walked smack dab into the biggest scientific debate of the time: Darwin's theory of evolution. Quickly, Du Chaillu's trophies went from objects of wonder to key pieces in an all-out intellectual war. With a wide range of characters, including Abraham Lincoln, Arthur Conan Doyle, P.T Barnum, Thackeray, and of course, Charles Darwin, this is a one of a kind book about a singular moment in history.

In 1856, Paul Du Chaillu ventured into the African jungle in search of a mythic beast, the gorilla. After wild encounters with vicious cannibals, deadly snakes, and tribal kings, Du Chaillu emerged with 20 preserved gorilla skins--two of which were stuffed and brought on tour--and walked smack dab into the biggest scientific debate of the time: Darwin's theory of evolution. Quickly, Du Chaillu's trophies went from objects of wonder to key pieces in an all-out intellectual war. With a wide range of characters, including Abraham Lincoln, Arthur Conan Doyle, P.T Barnum, Thackeray, and of course, Charles Darwin, this is a one of a kind book about a singular moment in history.

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  • From the book

    Prologue He'd been hunting in the forest's depths for months, but he'd never known such silence. No monkeys shook the leaves over-head, no birds cried, no insects droned. The only sounds seemed to come from within: the pulse throbbing in his temples and his own labored breathing.

    The previous day the young man had hiked what he guessed was about eighteen miles before collapsing into sleep. But those trails hadn't been nearly as challenging as this one--a muddy ribbon twisting up the forested mountainside, inset with loose boulders of granite and quartz. He was in good shape and just twenty-five years old, but each step took its toll. He fell behind his companions, whose bare feet gripped the slippery rocks better than did his leather boot soles. His blue cotton shirt and brown pants were streaked with mud.

    Somewhere along the way--it was hard to tell exactly where it began--the gentlest of whispers broke through the enveloping hush. The higher he climbed, the louder it got: a breathy hiss that grew into a roar. Twisting through the overgrown vegetation, he found the other men standing on a broad, flat shelf of land. A scene like none he'd ever witnessed burst open in front of him: a vast pool of swirling water, fed by a majestic torrent that spilled down the angled slope for what looked like a mile. A mist rose from the tumult, obscuring everything in a gauzy veil: the swaying ferns, the logs slanting across the water, the trees ringing the banks. According to his calculations, they were about five thousand feet above sea level.

    He paused to drink from the pool, but his rest was brief. A short distance uphill, one of his companions spotted footprints that didn't belong to their own party. The feet that had impressed those marks into the mud were bare--but oddly round, with a big toe that seemed to jut away from the other four toes at a severe angle.
    When he saw the prints for himself, the hunter felt his heart slam against his rib cage: this was the target he'd traveled so far to pursue, and it finally seemed within his reach.

    Following the tracks, the men stumbled into what appeared to be an abandoned tribal village. Years earlier, the land had been cleared for huts that had since collapsed. Stray stalks of sugarcane pushed through the ruins. As the hunter broke off a stalk and sucked the grassy sweetness from its marrow, another of the men observed that some of the plants had recently been ravaged--violently torn up by the roots and mangled into pulp.
    They looked at one another and grabbed the rifles they wore strapped across their backs.

    More tracks led down a hill. The men carefully crossed a stream on a fallen log, and on the other side of the water they encountered a cluster of enormous granite boulders, some as big as small buildings. The tracks here were even fresher, filled with muddy water that hadn't had time to settle.
    The hunter circled to the right of the boulders, while a few of his companions walked to the left. He emerged from the granite blockade just in time to catch an obstructed view of four dark creatures fleeing rapidly into the dense cover of forest.

    The figures disappeared as quickly as they had exploded into view. Running with their heads down and bodies bent forward, the woolly creatures appeared to him, he later noted, "like men running for their lives."
    Just minutes before, he might have sworn that the mountain torrent had been the most awe-inspiring sight he'd witnessed in his young life. But this blurred vision of bodies in motion--gone in the blink of an eye--blew it away.

    Chapter 1: Destiny
    Gabon, West Africa
    (Ten years earlier)

    Late in...

About the Author-
  • Monte Reel is also the author of The Last of the Tribe. He has written articles and essays for the New York Times Magazine, Harper's and Outside, and he is a former foreign correspondent for the Washington Post. He lives outside of Chicago with his wife and two daughters.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    September 3, 2012
    Although he’s not well known today, Paul Du Chaillu was one of the Victorian era’s most famous explorers. He was the person who brought the gorilla to the attention of Europeans. In response to his fame, he was attacked mercilessly by competitors who claimed he was a fraud who fabricated his tales of African exploration. Reel (The Last of the Tribe) provides a robust intellectual history by embedding Du Chaillu’s story within the debate over evolution, the relationship among the human races, the rise of Christian fundamentalism, and the nasty backbiting that was common in the scientific arena of the time. He expertly probes the history of the enigmatic Du Chaillu, someone who purposefully shrouded his past from scrutiny, in large part, according to Reel, because his likely mixed race parentage would have scandalized upper-class British mores, destroyed his reputation, and turned him into an outcast. In Reel’s hands, Du Chaillu’s adventures in Africa, including his discovery of Pygmies and his part in a smallpox epidemic, were no less harrowing than his interactions with many of the world’s leading scientists and explorers. Agent: Larry Weissman, Larry Weismann Literary, LLC.

  • Kirkus

    December 1, 2012
    Former Washington Post reporter Reel (The Last of the Tribe: The Epic Quest to Save a Lone Man in the Amazon, 2010) offers a fascinating sidelight on the perennial debate of man's origins. In the decade before the publication of Darwin's On the Origins of Species, evolution was already a hotly debated topic. The naturalist Richard Owen, a contemporary of Darwin, was considered the foremost British anatomist of his day. A proponent of the theory of evolution, Owen believed that the Creation was not a one-time event as reported in the Bible, but a continuous process. However, he opposed the notion that man was kin to primates. He compared the skulls of primates and humans, on display at the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in London, hoping to establish "taxonomical lines...between humans and apes." Reel weaves together the fierce contentions about the theory of evolution among leading Victorian scientists and the story of young African explorer Paul Du Chaillu. In 1852, Du Chaillu (an African claiming to be of French descent) was educated by American missionaries in Gabon. He subsequently traveled to America, where he obtained funding for an expedition to hunt African gorillas. When he returned to the U.S. with their preserved remains, the Civil War had begun and the financial support he expected was withdrawn. In 1861, after writing a book about his exploits, Owen invited him to London. There, his book was published and he became an overnight celebrity, for a time overshadowing Darwin in the popular imagination. Ultimately, Du Chaillu was accused of embellishing his account. A lively footnote to the debate between science and religion and the exploration of the African jungle in the Victorian era.

    COPYRIGHT(2012) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    October 15, 2012

    The legend of some dangerous, near-mythical beast--the gorilla--galvanized Westerners in the 1850s, when Paul Du Chaillu headed to equatorial West Africa to see what he could see. Three years later, he emerged with amazing stories and amazing specimens, which landed him in the midst of the heated debate about Darwin's theory of evolution. Du Chaillu's mysterious background started some whispers, too. Adventure, history, nature, big ideas--what more could you want?

    Copyright 2012 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • The New York Times Book Review "Intriguing. . . . Rattles along with fine, wacky momentum."
  • Salon "Gripping. . . . Intellectually satisfying. . . . Exciting."
  • The Daily Beast "A celebration of accomplishments too far-reaching to be understood in their time."
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune "Thoroughly engrossing."
  • The St. Louis Post-Dispatch "[An] entertaining and provocative story . . . it has the narrative flow and evocative language of a fine historical novel."
  • Washington Post "[A] sense of urgency compels the reader onward to find out what happened. . . . Arresting."
  • Wall Street Journal "Engrossing . . . would go great with popcorn. . . . Addresses big topics--evolution, abolition--but they remain in service of the narrative, providing context for colorful conflict."
  • Publishers Weekly "A robust intellectual history. . . . In Reel's hands, Du Chaillu's adventures in Africa, including his discovery of Pygmies and his part in a smallpox epidemic, were no less harrowing than his interactions with many of the world's leading scientists and explorers."
  • Book Page "Those unfamiliar with [Paul Du Chaillu] would do well to pick up a copy of Between Man and Beast, Monte Reel's new book about Du Chaillu's life and adventures in pursuit of this fierce creature."
  • New York Post "You'd half expect a Bela Lugosi mad scientist or a Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan to pop up in this Victorian-era drama, which travels from the London of Darwin and Dickens to unexplored Africa to Civil War-ravaged America."
  • Nature "A supremely entertaining, enlightening and memorable read."
  • The Buffalo News "An admirable book for those who like epic tales of exploration. . . . Fascinating."
  • San Antonio-Express New
    "A vivid scene worthy of the silver screen. . . . From the perilous adventures to the equally tense academic battles waged by British high society. . . . At times, the mind staggers to recall that this story is a work of nonfiction."
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An Unlikely Explorer and the African Adventure the Victorian World by Storm
Monte Reel
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