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It was once a story that every school kid knew. Ruth Harkness, a dress-designing socialite, following a trip laid out by her dead husband, captured the first giant panda to ever be seen in the West. Little Su-Lin, as the infant panda was named, made the front page of the Chicago Tribune 0 for nine days straight after he was placed on display at Brookfield Zoo. Croke discovered the story while researching zoos and became fascinated by the adventure. Harkness' husband, Bill, died in China while on an expedition to capture the first live panda. The grieving Ruth, in a spirit of kinship with her husband, decided that the best homage to his memory was to finish what he had started. The moment when the expedition discovered the infant Su-Lin, bolstered by the fact that they kept him alive, made history. Croke has created an exciting tale, full of the color and spectacle of a lost, exotic era and place. She was given access to Harkness' letters to her closest friend, and the detail she gleaned from this correspondence gives such intimacy to the text that it simply pulls the reader in. Harkness was a mass of contrasts: sophisticated city dweller and earthy lover of remote places, hard-drinking libertine, and devoted nurturer of infant pandas (yes, she went back and got more), and Croke evokes her character in an evenhanded style that makes her three-dimensional. Complete with period photographs. --Nancy Bent Copyright 2005 Booklist
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Following the death of her husband, a young Manhattan socialite named Ruth Harkness decided to carry out his work-to find and bring a giant panda to the United States. Amazingly, she succeeded, much to the chagrin of the male explorers and adventurers of the 1930s. Harkness was not only successful in bringing the first known giant panda to the Western world, but, even more astonishingly, she was also able to keep it alive. Even today, with cutting-edge procedures and knowledge, zoos struggle to breed and raise endangered species in captivity. In 1938, Harkness wrote a book about her adventures, joining the elite ranks of women such as Jane Goodall who made exceptional contributions to our understanding of the behavior and ecology of the world's vanishing animal species. Drawing on her access to hundreds of Harkness's letters and conversations with family members, Croke (The Modern Ark: The Story of Zoos Past, Present and Future) provides a rich and thoroughly engaging story of a captivating and remarkable woman. This well-written, exhaustively researched and documented book should be on every library's shelves. Highly recommended.-Edell M. Schaefer, Brookfield P.L., WI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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During the Great Depression, inexpensive entertainment could be had at any city zoo. The exploits of the utterly macho men who bagged the beasts also made good adventure-film fodder. Yet one of the most famous animals ever brought to America-the giant panda-was captured by a woman, Ruth Harkness. Constantine Croke, the "Animal Beat" columnist for the Boston Globe, became fascinated by bohemian socialite Harkness, who was left alone and in difficult financial straits in 1936 after her husband died trying to bring a giant panda back from China. Instead of mourning, Harkness took on the mission. Arriving in Hong Kong with "a whiskey soda in one hand and a Chesterfield in the other," she soon found herself up against ruthless competitors, bandits, foul weather and warfare. Luckily, she was accompanied by the handsome and capable Quentin Young, her Chinese guide and eventual lover. This gripping book retraces their steps through the isolated and rugged wilderness where pandas hide, and then back to America, where the strange bears took the West by storm. Despite her remarkable journey, Harkness was derided and ignored by male adventurers. In dusting off this exciting tale, Constantine Croke (The Modern Ark: Zoos Past, Present and Future) returns Harkness to her rightful place in the top rank of zoological explorers. B&w photos. Agent, Laura Blake Peterson. (On sale July 5) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved