The Way of the Panda: The Curious History of China's Political Animal by Henry Nicholls

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The Way of the Panda: The Curious History of China's Political Animal by Henry Nicholls

Category: Popular Science
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: This is all about the immediately recognizable and adorable panda. From a scientific perspective the author charts the animal - from its natural habitat in China - to being a hunter's target and ultimately through to being a protected species.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: September 2010
Publisher: Profile Books
ISBN: 978-1846683688

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The book cover alone, with its panda hugging a tree, says 'buy me', 'read me.' A good start. The sections are divided into no-nonsense headings: Extraction, Abstraction and Protection. Maps and Prologue give a flavour of what's to come. The inside front cover states boldly that Giant pandas have been causing a stir ever since their formal scientific discovery just over 140 years ago. I think it safe to say that many of us would probably say automatically, without thinking, that the panda has immense appeal. But is it only because of the beautifully marked eyes which give the animal a cuddly, teddy bear look?

Nicholls warms to his subject straight away and gives the reader all sorts of information to mull over, chew on. For example, he delves into Charles Darwin (so to speak) and dips deep into the whole area of DNA, chromosomes and the like. There is, unsurprisingly, a strong scientific element to the book. Nicholls is a science journalist. He tells us that way back when the giant panda was about to be 'discovered', people didn't actually know exactly what type of animal they were dealing with. Was it a bear? Some sort of big raccoon? Or a mixture of both? And so the story commenced ...

It shouldn't come as any surprise to learn that the animal was hunted in the early decades of the 20th century but this gave way, thank goodness, to trying then to transport a live animal to other countries: the USA and Britain for example. And this brings me to probably one of - if not the - most famous panda ever. Chi-chi. She was a star turn at London Zoo for many years. A male panda was introduced to Chi-chi (now a bit of a diva) hoping for the patter of tiny panda paws. But it was not to be. Has this got something to do with trying to breed animals in captivity? Nicholls gives the reader plenty of information about the famous Chi-chi. Enough possibly for a separate book. Apparently, she was still making the news in death, as she was in life. Food for thought indeed.

Chapter headings such as The face of conservation Born free and Captive subjects are all self-explanatory and chart the animal's progress down the years. China soon cottoned on to the fact that, in the panda, they had what many other countries wanted and so a degree of political bartering started.

There are some heart-warming stories in this book and there are others which are less so. Man messes about with nature, at the animal's peril, in most cases. And when I was reading through this book I did think to myself several times, why not just leave the poor animal alone to get on with its life in its natural habitat. But then Nicholls burst my balloon and explained reasons why this could not happen, did not happen. This book serves to make the reader think, not only of pandas, but perhaps also of various endangered species.

There is a comprehensive Further Reading List. Overall, I would say that this book does have a text-book feel to it. The small, black and white (was that deliberate I wonder?) photographs add to the school-book feel. Whether this is a good thing or not is down to the individual reader. Personally, I would have left them out. This book may very well be a timely publication given China's emerging prominence in certain areas. Let's hope that the conservation of the beloved giant panda is high on their agenda. Recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Moving on from pandas: Do Polar Bears Get Lonely?

Buy The Way of the Panda: The Curious History of China's Political Animal by Henry Nicholls at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Way of the Panda: The Curious History of China's Political Animal by Henry Nicholls at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Way of the Panda: The Curious History of China's Political Animal by Henry Nicholls at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Way of the Panda: The Curious History of China's Political Animal by Henry Nicholls at Amazon.com.


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