Nature photography, political rants, and Martyman laughs from the ten-time award-winning author of "Cool Creatures, Hot Planet," "Endangered Edens," and the "Time Is Irreverent" series.

I loved it as a kid, but now it makes me cringe.

Born Free

Anyone who follows my book reviews knows that I only give five-star reviews. Not that all the books I read are worthy of five stars—far from it—it’s just that as a busy author myself, I don’t have time to review books unless they warrant five-stars. I’m going to make the exception here and give this book just two stars.

I originally read all three books in the Born Free series when I was about fourteen. Had I reviewed them then, I would have given each book five stars. Unfortunately, this series hasn’t aged well.

First, there’s the packaging. I purchased the Kindle 50th Anniversary Edition, called Born Free: The Full Story” Nowhere (that I could find) does the publisher state exactly what you are purchasing. As near as I can tell, this version includes Born Free, Living Free, and Forever Free all in one book, with the introductions of the second two books removed. The book names are missing and simply called Part One, Part Two, and Part Three. If I had the print versions of the actual books, I could compare, but there’s only so much effort I’m willing to put into a review.

Also, the photos are hidden in the back and not mentioned on the Contents Page. My guess is that the majority of readers will never find the photos.

As I started reading the book, I became hooked. The first part is a great story. But as the story went on, I had to keep convincing myself that the parts that made me cringe were “historical.” Then, shortly into what I think was the second book, I gave up.

Here’s why:

1) During their lives (both are dead now) Joy Adamson and her husband, George, maintained a reputation for being conservationists, but I have never subscribed to the theory of conservation-through- killing. Joy mentioned how much they hated killing animals, but then recounted what seemed like daily animal killings at the end of George’s gun. At first the killings were justified, to help Elsa (though excessively so, as once George even killed three animals to leave at separate locations for Elsa), but elsewhere George shoots other animals, such as a crocodile and an “aggressive” cobra.

2) George’s job was as a game warden, in charge of stopping poaching. I’m a huge supporter of eliminating poaching, but in the Born Free series it seemed as if poaching rules only applied to blacks. Time after time when an unknown black person appeared in the book, Joy Adamson’s next sentence was to accuse that person of being a poacher. Perhaps she was right. But why was it okay for George to casually shoot a crocodile and then a few days later arrest a tribesman for doing the same thing?

3) Eventually the book just became redundant: look for Elsa; find Elsa; kill something for Elsa; leave Elsa for a few days, and repeat. I found myself mentally screaming at the pages: “Elsa is a wild lion now. You did your job. It’s time to let her go!” But obviously if the Adamson’s left Elsa alone, there wouldn’t be any sequels to the first book.

Finally, after Joy Adamson berated her cook/servant for not “following her instructions” when preparing her plum pudding on Christmas Eve, I had enough and dumped out of the book. I just wasn’t enjoying the way she treated non-white people and animals other than lions (she even called hyenas “sinister”).

In the early 1960s, the Born Free series was ahead of its time, but now I think anyone who respects people of different races and/or animals of different species would find it difficult to enjoy these books. If you do read them, the best way to do so is by repeating to yourself throughout the pages: “I’m reading this as a historical document. I’m reading this as a historical document. I’m reading this as a historical document. . . .”

Marty Essen, author of Endangered Edens (to be published in January 2016) and Cool Creatures, Hot Planet: Exploring the Seven Continents.


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