Five Favorites About Zoos

"There are so many zoo books,"
Said young Olivia Newlooks,
"Novels and memoirs and
Could-it-be-true? books."

"But if I wrote about zoos,
It would really make news!
My views on zoos
Would knock off your shoes."

"The scarlet macaws and Nazis and stuff
They write about now are not quite good enough.
You can read about them in any old true book.
I'd shove 'em aside. I'd find a whole new nook."

"My zookeepers' wives
Would lead glamorous lives.
My zoo outside Nablus
Would be simply fab'lus."

"A guy named Pi is a pretty good try.
But the guys in my book will be able to fly!
They'll outlive the Old Men. They'll Outdream the Dead.
Then people will say: Those new books, by Newlooks,
Have got to be read."

With apologies to Dr. Seuss, here's a short list of favorites in the underappreciated zoo genre (this could be the first time that these titles have ever appeared together). I await your suggestions for books that can bridge a frightful gap in our society, the yawning divide between panda enthusiasts and lovers of dystopian novels.


1. The Zoo on the Road to Nablus: A Story of Survival from the West Bank, by Amelia Thomas. A newly published non-fiction chronicle of the last zoo in the Palestinian territories, its desperate downward spiral and its resourceful keeper, Dr. Sami Khader.

2. The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story, by Diane Ackerman. Did you know that the Nazis had a plan for the animal kingdom akin to their plan for a pure Aryan race? Ackerman, a naturalist, explains the Nazi dream of recreating the forest bison, wild horses and other large mammals of ancient Europe. She does this while telling the heroic and harrowing story of the family that ran the Warsaw zoo during World War II.

3. How the Dead Dream, by Lydia Millet. A psychological novel about a conscience-stricken developer who builds subdivisions during the day and breaks into zoos at night to commune with the animals.

4. The Old Men at the Zoo, by Sir Angus Wilson. Somewhat in the allegorical vein of Animal Farm, a zoo in this novel becomes a locus of struggle between fascism and liberalism in a tragi-comic future: 1970-71.
Written in 1961.

5. The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman's Fight to Save the World's Most Beautiful Bird, by Bruce Barcott. A nonfiction account of a zookeeper's determined effort to prevent construction of a dam in the rainforest of Belize.

-- Alan Cooperman

By Christian Pelusi |  March 20, 2008; 7:38 AM ET Alan Cooperman
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No "Life of Pi"?

Posted by: DC Centurion's Shield | March 20, 2008 11:24 AM

I agree.
Where's "Life of Pi"? Booker Prize winner. Possibly the most affecting book about zoos ever. Yours is a dead, dry list without this one.
But, as long as we're talking about zoos, How about "The Woman At the Washington Zoo"? Little to do with zoos, I admit, but a wonderful book all the same.

Posted by: Dave | March 23, 2008 12:15 AM

Hey, don't rattle my cage! I gave "Life of Pi" a shout-out in the Seussian verse -- I figured it's one zoo book that everybody knows, exceeded in pop cultural impact only by Dr. Seuss's "if i ran the zoo." The point of the list was to EXPAND the genre, maybe even point you to a book you haven't read! That crack about a dead, dry list really stings. Didn't an adult ever tell you not to taunt the animals, even if they're behind bars?

Posted by: Alan Cooperman | March 24, 2008 12:58 PM

Though I haven't finished it yet, J. M. Ledgard's book "Giraffe: A Novel" is a riveting and dark story based on the fateful journey of a captive group of giraffes to a Czechslovakian zoo. Seems like zoo tales lend themselves to tragedy pretty easily, unfortunately.

Posted by: Mongoose | March 27, 2008 2:16 PM

Gerald Durrell wrote several books about his love of animals among them, "My Family and Other Animals" and "A Zoo in My Luggage".
He went on to become the owner of the Jersey Zoological Park in the Channel Islands. He is a highly entertaining writer and brother of the famous novelist Lawrence Durrell. Highly recommended!

Posted by: Elaine | March 27, 2008 6:27 PM

Seconds on Gerry Durrell, a collector for zoos until decided to open his own.

He only wrote one novel, about a man who inherits an elephant.

Posted by: kdt | April 11, 2008 3:36 PM

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