Stampeding Through Time

Skip the crowds at Woodland Park and instead enjoy this sweeping, beautifully written account of elephants through the ages.


by Eric Scigliano (Houghton Mifflin, $24) LONGTIME Seattle Weekly readers know that writer Eric Scigliano has a gift for making the natural world . . . well, come alive. Over the course of two decades, he has contributed to this paper a string of memorable cover stories on such unlikely subjects as bogs, the sex life of geoducks, and the history of the cedar tree. For his first book, Scigliano tracks down elephants—specifically, the biological and cultural interplay between these astonishing, lumbering creatures and the human beings who have employed, exploited, and exalted them. Moving across centuries and cultures, Scigliano describes how elephants may have steered our very evolution into bipedal creatures (by clearing the landscape). He looks at how elephants helped determine the course of ancient wars and thus of civilization, the role they have played in modern international diplomacy as gifts, and their place as objects of religious reverence and commercial spectacle (in circuses, etc.). With an avowed focus on the Asian, rather than African, species, the book combines archival research with Scigliano's elephant-oriented travels through Myanmar (formerly Burma), Sri Lanka, India, and elsewhere. Plenty of books by journalists have a hurried, cobbled-together quality— shoveling out facts with little concern for music—but Scigliano manages to go 300 tireless pages without a clunky sentence and no letup in elegance or care. The range of knowledge he displays here is also remarkable—more typical of an ivy-covered scholar than a newspaperman. The guy's so learned, it's hard to believe I ever worked with him. Mark D. Fefer

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