*Review originally posted on 2/27/13*
Monte Reel’s “Between Man and Beast: A Tale of Exploration & Evolution” is a delightful, engaging read that many will find hard to put down.
The narrative captivatingly conveys the story of little-known 19th century explorer Paul Du Chaillu; the first non-African man to venture deep into Africa to discover the at-the-time rather unknown and elusive gorilla. Through alternate chapters set in England, New York, and Western Africa, the reader is taken on an adventure at the center of which figured the increasingly popular concept of Darwinism.
The crux of the debate that cemented the division between Creationists and Darwinists would rest upon the question surrounding the nature and ancestry of man. Could the gorilla be said to be man’s ancestor, and if so, which ‘kind’ of man could it be most closely attributed to? As such, the topic contributed to both tensions and unfortunate justifications for racial inequalities, colonization, slavery and the ‘role of the white man’ in that world he so arrogantly presumed to be entirely his to control. That racial issues were at a boiling point in each continent is apparent just by noting their respective situations: England and its vast African colonization, the States and its bloody Civil War, and Africans’ tribal rivalries—responsible for fueling fear and myths on one another and subsequently, in a lack of knowledge of much of their own continent’s animal species.
Amidst this historical backdrop surfaces Paul’s fascinating story, who was in so many ways at the root of it all, only to end up on the background, forgotten for different reasons. Monte Reel’s account succeeds at portraying a fascinatingly unique, dedicated being who himself epitomized much of the diversity and complexity his era had such troubles coming to terms with.
Truly, a history book which enlightens as much as it entertains and tugs at heartstrings.