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Encountering Gorillas

A Chronicle of Discovery, Exploitation, Understanding, and Survival

James L. Newman

Gorillas, the largest of the apes inhabiting our planet, have been a source of fear, awe, and inspiration to humans. In this book, James L. Newman brings a lifetime of study of Africa to his compelling story of the rich and varied interaction between gorillas and humans since earliest contact. He illuminates the complex relationship over time through the interlinked themes of discovery, exploitation, understanding, and continuing survival. Tragically, the number of free-living gorillas—facing habitat loss, disease, and poaching—has declined dramatically over the course of the past century, and the future of the few that remain is highly uncertain. At the same time, those in zoos and sanctuaries now lead much more secure lives than they did earlier. Newman follows this transition, highlighting the roles played by key individuals, both humans and gorillas. Among the former have been adventurers, opportunists, writers, and scientists. The latter include real gorillas, such as Gargantua and Koko, and fictional ones, notably King Kong and Mighty Joe Young. This thoughtful and engaging book helps us understand how our image of gorillas has been both distorted and clarified through culture and science for centuries and how we now control the destiny of these magnificent great apes. « less more »
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 220Size: 6 1/4 x 9 1/4
978-1-4422-1955-7 • Hardback • July 2013 • $45.00 • (£29.95)
978-1-4422-1957-1 • eBook • July 2013 • $44.99 • (£29.95)
James L. Newman is professor emeritus of geography at the Maxwell School, Syracuse University.
Chapter 1: Introducing Gorillas
Chapter 2: First Encounters
Chapter 3: Hunting Gorillas
Chapter 4: In Search of Mountain Gorillas
Chapter 5: Knowledge Comes to the Rescue
Chapter 6: Famous Gorillas
Chapter 7: The Future of the Gentle Giants
Newman (geography, emeritus, Syracuse Univ.; Paths Without Glory: Richard Francis Burton in Africa) presents a poignant review of our relationship with the African gorilla from earliest European contact to the present, and reflects on the future of our fellow primate. Much as Barry Lopez’s Of Wolves and Men traced the long human history of fear, mistrust, and ignorance surrounding our view of wolves, so does Newman catalog over two centuries of myth and misperception about gorillas. The author covers four essential themes—discovery, exploitation, understanding, and future survival. He leads readers through a litany of early misunderstanding of the gorilla, when it was thought of as a threatening and savage demon, and discusses our current understanding of it as a complex social animal, sensitive, intelligent, and frail against the onslaught of human activities. An accomplished Africanist, Newman illustrates the multiple threats to the survival of this species, from timber harvesting and habitat loss, owing to encroaching human populations and civil wars, to the documented impact of human diseases upon them. An extensive bibliography offers interested readers much for further review. VERDICT This sometimes heartbreaking exploration will be of keen interest to any reader concerned with the effects of human development on the ecology of the African continent and its gorillas.
Library Journal

Newman has compiled a thorough history of our interactions with gorillas from the jungle to the cage. Beginning with 19th century sightings that perpetuated more myth than fact, Newman documents the early attempts to capture them which usually ended tragically as they succumbed to human viruses and faulty diets. By the 20th century researchers like George B. Schaller and Dian Fossey contribute valuable insights on the creature’s habits in its natural environment, work that eventually leads to protecting the species in the wild as well as improving their conditions in zoos. A chapter on “famous gorillas” is [especially] entertaining as Newman details the lives of caged gorillas, such as Binti Jua, the gorilla who saved the life of a three-year-old boy after he fell into its habitat.
Publishers Weekly

Africa has been a backdrop for the author's previous research, but this latest work diverges from his human-environmental explorations and instead examines human-animal interactions, namely with the gorilla. Neither a conservationist nor a primatologist, Newman adds to this body of literature in a unique manner–from the viewpoint of a geographer. This perspective allows for history and culture to blend seamlessly in his analysis. He offers a holistic understanding of humans and gorillas as he chronicles interactions from very early discoveries of the species through cultivated myths and resulting consequences. He also includes chapters on famous researchers and gorillas that have become well known to the public. The book concludes with the status of gorillas today, where their continued survival relies heavily on zoos and conservation parks. Each chapter is easily accessible to a wide audience, ranging from novices to experts, and the book is thoroughly referenced for readers seeking additional information. Discussions occasionally deviate from gorillas to other primates, but often these wanderings reinforce the story of what has been happening to gorillas and why. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries.

We are witnessing, literally, the end of an era in Africa, the collapse of ecosystems and the end of lineages that go back hundreds of millions of years as the human surge and its economic and environmental consequences overwhelm the last survivors. Geographer-Africanist James Newman, who has chronicled Africa's peopling and thrown new light on its ‘exploration,’ now turns his attention to the magnificent gorilla as habitats shrink and futures darken. This meticulously substantive yet deeply philosophical book will rouse your emotions and touch your heart as it follows the gorilla's fateful encounter with globalization.
Harm de Blij, Michigan State University

If you are fascinated by our close primate relatives, you must read this captivating book to become better informed about the changing and increasingly fraught relationship between gorillas and humans and what it means for their survival. James Newman, with a lifetime exploring African themes, is uniquely qualified to keep you enthralled from start to finish. His book is a must read for anyone interested in the human impact on wildlife and nature writ large.
Marilyn Silberfein, Temple University