Ivory's Ghosts: Book summary and reviews of Ivory's Ghosts by John Frederick Walker

Ivory's Ghosts

The White Gold of History and the Fate of Elephants

By John Frederick Walker

Ivory's Ghosts
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  • Published in USA  Jan 2009,
    304 pages.

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Book Summary

Ivory's Ghosts is the first comprehensive, contemporary look at the world's most treasured organic material, ivory. Using a wide range of historical and firsthand reportage, John Frederick Walker tells the astonishing and sometimes savage story of ivory's enormous impact on both human history and that of its most important source: the majestic African elephant.

Coveted since prehistory for its beauty and scarcity, ivory was the master carver's medium in cultures from ancient Egypt to the industrializing United States. It was used for sacred amulets, classical nudes, Japanese netsuke, piano keys, and billiard balls. By the 19th Century ivory had become the plastic of its age and the subject of a global addiction that drove the exploration and exploitation of Africa at great human and animal cost. It was taken to the coasts on the shoulders of slaves who were then sold along with the tusks they carried, and insatiable demand led to the wholesale slaughter of elephants. By the 1980s, organized poaching reached record levels in East Africa, provoking an international outcry that led to an ivory trade ban still in effect today.

But as long as there are elephants, there will be ivory, and the question of what to do with the lustrous material is at the heart of a heated and ongoing international debate. In this richly detailed narrative, John Frederick Walker examines both ivory's past and its uncertain future - and the future of elephants themselves.

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Media Reviews

"[A] mix of appalled testimony and meticulous research." - Publishers Weekly.

"An impressively thorough study of ivory's fascination, the corruption it engenders and the ongoing debate over its ecological impact." - Kirkus Reviews.

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John Frederick Walker is the author of A Certain Curve of Horn: The Hundred-Year Quest for the Giant Sable Antelope of Angola. His work has appeared in The New York Times, National Geographic Traveler, Wildlife Conservation, and many other publications.

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