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Parade of the beastsZoo A History of Zoological Gardens in the Westby Eric Baratay Elisabeth Hardouin-Fugier400pp Reaktion BooksA Different Nature The Paradoxical World of Zoos and Their Uncertain Futureby David Hancocks296pp University of California PressThe zoological garden is a European phenomenon - as well as a European invention and export Across the continent about 150 million visitors decide to go to the zoo each year And the history of that all-too-concrete metaphor of dominion is now an important part of the history of leisureThe institutions origins among the princely menageries of the ancien regime its evolution in the 19th century as one of the great bourgeois and civic institutions its 20th-century guilt-ridden lurch towards the leisure-park all show that this is fun of a serious - and profitable - kindThe stark elegance of Eric Baratay and Elisabeth Hardouin-Fugiers argument translated from the original French edition pulls no punches Illustrations punctuate the text with an appropriate and sometimes saddening beauty What emerges is a history of the craze for the Other - which turned it into a commodity to be codified in the table of human values Although so spectatorial in purpose the zoo is also a mirror held before homo ludens on its day outTo find in animals a source of both delight and terror to enjoy alternately the illusion of rapprochement and the King Kong thrill of the savage these may be instincts as old as conscious life itself David Hancocks reminds us in his more diffuse work of the short ancestral shadow Imagine he says the length of your arm as the span of time since life began on earth A delicate trim of the middle finger-nail would remove all traces of human existence Humility is here a virtue glimpsed in dizzying perspectiveThe great chain of being - that renaissance clich - proposed a less alienating view Only a little below the angels stood humanity divinely guaranteed its dominion over both Earth
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