Ivory's Ghosts: The White Gold of History and the Fate of Elephants (Hardcover)

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Long before gold and gemstones held allure, humans were drawn to the "jewels of the elephant"--its great tusks--for their beauty, rarity, and ability to be finely carved. In Ivory's Ghosts, John Frederick Walker tells the astonishing story of the human lust for ivory and its cataclysmic implications for elephants. Each age and each culture, from ancient Egypt to nineteenth-century America and modern Japan, found its own artistic, religious, and even industrial uses for the remarkable material that comes from the teeth of elephants and a handful of other mammals. Sensuous figurines, scientific instruments, pistol grips, and piano keys were all the result--as was human enslavement and the wholesale slaughter of elephants. By the 1980s, elephant poaching threatened the last great herds of the African continent and led to a worldwide ban on international trade. But the ban has failed to stop poaching, and debate continues over what to do with the legitimate and growing stockpiles of ivory recovered from elephants that die of natural causes. An insightful history of this precious commodity, Ivory's Ghosts is also a wrenching--and utterly compelling--argument for a controversial mode of wildlife conservation: a controlled return to the ivory trade.

Praise For…


“Well-written and informative.”—Foreign Affairs

“[An] entertaining chronicle...Ivory’s Ghosts admirably tells the story of this enchanting substance while making clear that as long as there are elephants, there will be ivory. Now, surely, it is ivory's turn to help ensure that there will always be elephants.”—Leon Lazaroff, The Hartford Courant

“Walker provides sensitive and insightful analysis...Ivory, he acknowledges, is as wondrous as the creatures that produce it...Walker sees the future of elephants not in an absolute ban on all ivory, but in a system of sustainable harvesting and wildlife management. It’s a difficult balancing act, to be sure, but ivory can its bloody past...to become a self-renewing resource which can fund national parks, stabilize local economies, and preserve the impressive creatures that make it.”—Laurence A. Marschall, Natural History

“[A] tour de force examination of the history of ivory, humankind's lust for this exquisite treasure, and the demise of the elephant and human decency in the process of this unholy quest...Walker is a scholar and a perfectionist, but his meticulous examination of the allure of ivory reads like a novel that is impossible to put down...Whether you agree with this approach to conservation or not, read Ivory's Ghosts if you have any affinity for the history and future of this magnificent animal that has been sacrificed over the ages for what amounts to the white gold of its teeth...This book is a provocative, fascinating and compelling read. Highly recommended.”—Georgianne Nienaber, The Huffington Post

“Walker colorfully illustrates the [ivory] trade’s history...While Walker doesn’t pretend to offer definitive answers to the threats these pachyderms face, understanding the importance of the issues he raises is critical to the survival of more than elephants. In this comprehensive work with a serious message, there is never a dull moment.”—Anthony Brandt, National Geographic Adventure



Product Details
ISBN: 9780871139955
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
Publication Date: January 1st, 2009
Pages: 304