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PENGUINS, PINEAPPLES AND PANGOLINS: First Encounters with the Exotic by Claire Cock-Starkey

  • Written by  Mick Herron
  • Published in Books
PENGUINS, PINEAPPLES AND PANGOLINS: First Encounters with the Exotic by Claire Cock-Starkey
01 Jun
2016
Wide-eyed wonder is a thing of the past; the age of Google has removed excitement from the acquisition of knowledge, and information has thus become devalued – this is Cock-Starkey’s thesis and her book unashamedly sets out to recreate a time of undiscovered delights.

As is to be expected, many initial encounters with wondrous beasts focused on what they taste like. This, sadly, didn’t help the dodo, even though it ‘cannot chuse but quickly cloy and nauseate the stomach, being indeed more pleasurable to look upon than feed upon.’

Pandas didn’t have the best of luck either. They were first seen by a European only 150 years ago: the priest and naturalist Armand David’s 1870 diary records how his hunters brought him ‘a young white bear, which they took alive but unfortunately killed so it could be carried more easily.’ Some beasts, though, had the last laugh: there’s an account from one Mr TS – an English merchant of the 17th century – of encountering, in Turkey, a lamb that disappeared behind bushes and reappeared as ‘one of the strangest creatures I ever saw’, having changed colour and appearance in the interim. The possibility that this was a different animal doesn’t seem to have occurred, so eager was he for a taste of the exotic.

There’s plenty to enjoy, here, in the language of discovery (the ‘dark Politicks’ of the ‘Crafty Cuttle-Fish’ mark it out as an untrustworthy specimen), while the flora from foreign shores offered a wealth of opportunity – with the Coquer-nut-tree alone a man can ‘build, and furnish, and fit and victual a small ship to sea’. 

A pleasant reminder of an age of honest responses. 

This review was published in the June 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.

Click here to purchase Penguins, Pineapples and Pangolins: First Encounters with the Exotic by Claire Cock-Starkey from Amazon

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