The Extinction Club

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9780688175399: The Extinction Club

From Robert Twigger, the internationally acclaimed author of Angry White Pyjamas and Big Snake, comes The Extinction Club, the brilliant, peculiar, and complex tale of the Milu.

For one thousand years, the Milu, an exotic species of deer with the neck of a camel, the horns of a stag, the feet of a cow, and the tail of a donkey, existed only in the Chinese emperor's private park in Beijing. But in the second half of the nineteenth century a Basque missionary, Pére David, became the first Westerner ever to see a Milu. Transfixed by the strange beast, he risked his life to obtain a specimen, then embalmed it and sent it to Paris in a diplomatic bag. The preserved remains caused quite a stir across Europe, and zoologists clamored to get hold of a live animal. Within a very short time, every major nation in Europe possessed a Milu. But most failed to thrive and died quickly in their new surroundings, and due to war -- most notably the Boxer Rebellion -- they became extinct in their native habitat as well. Yet the exotic deer were able to survive in one place -- Bedfordshire, England -- due to the nurturing of a devoted caretaker, the 11th Duke of Bedford, who kept a herd at Woburn Abbey. This labor and persistence paid off nearly a century later in 1986, when a part of the British herd was returned to China. And to this day the very rich hunt the Milu -- for a steep price -- in wild game reserves throughout the world, but most notably in Texas.

In his fascinating tale of nature, civilization, and history, Robert Twigger poignantly recounts the story of this strange and rare animal while providing a riveting meditation on a number of human obsessions -- evolution, truth-telling, extinction, myth-making, and survival.

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Review:

Robert Twigger isn't your typical nature writer, focusing intently on the life habits of an endangered and misunderstood species. In The Extinction Club he rambles and reflects his way all around his ostensible topic--the nearly extinct Pere David's deer. In fact, he spends the first fifty or so pages telling readers why he wrote the book, and musing on everything from libraries to his grandfather. It's a slow start for readers curious about the deer, but once Twigger begins divulging details about how the species, native to China, has survived in Bedfordshire, England, you'll be hooked. Twigger has a hipster's sense of irony and a postmodern storyteller's keen sense of the absurd, allowing him to avoid a lot of nature-writing clichés. Critics have accused him of being self-referential, and he does spend too much time in The Extinction Club describing meetings with publishers, his time at a survival camp, and his life in Oxford. But the book works in the end, both as a history of a little-known chapter of wildlife biology and as a meditation on nature and truth. --Therese Littleton

About the Author:

Robert Twigger, the author of Angry White Pyjamas and Big Snake, was born in 1964 and educated at Oxford, where he won the Newdigate Poetry Prize. In 1991 he went to Japan, studied traditional martial arts, and completed the course for the Tokyo riot police. In 1996 Twigger trained as a bullfighter in Spain, went looking for bona fide zombies in Haiti, and reported for the Daily Telegraph on chain gangs in Arizona. In 1997 he spent four months in Indonesia, attempting to capture the longest snake in the world. After many setbacks and adventures, his team succeeded in capturing a python twenty-six feet long -- almost certainly a world record for a snake currently in captivity. In addition to writing books, he is a regular contributor to Esquire, Maxim, the Daily Telegraph, and the Financial Times. He lives in London.

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Robert Twigger
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