Sunday, March 27, 2005


Rhinos On The Rhine

The San Francisco Chronicle reviews Glynis Ridley's Clara's Grand Tour: Travels With a Rhinoceros in Eighteenth-Century Europe:

[Clara was] a gentle, endearing, 3-ton Indian rhinoceros, who was as famous in her day as any artist, actor or head of state, and whose two-decade journey through villages, cities and royal courts sparked theological debates; revised the era's assumptions about "natural philosophy" (i.e., science); thrilled untold thousands; and made the fortune of one very enterprising young man.... From the engineering and construction of the unique horse-drawn coach that carried Clara thousands of miles throughout Europe, to the intricacies of how Van der Meer went about not only ingeniously marketing Clara but growing wealthy from his orchestrated display of her as the first rhino on European soil in centuries, the book paints a vivid picture of a time when increasing numbers of citizens, from every class, seemed avid for knowledge and novelty.

This sounds like catnip for history freaks. And yet -- even though it's only been out for two weeks -- I see that it's already on sixty percent discount. As Tom Wolfe can tell you, that is not a good sign. It really is disheartening, given the power of advance reviews and of what publishers decide to promote or allow to wither, the way that the fate of books seems more or less determined before they even reach bookstores.

A google search turns up very few reviews indeed of Clara's Grand Tour, and this sounds like a book that deserves much better. I can only hope that, even though it's already "old" -- you know, it's been out for two weeks and all -- that other reviewers start turning some attention Ridley's way.

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