The Lady and the Panda

The Lady and the PandaThe Lady and the Panda: The True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China’s Most Exotic AnimalThe Lady and the Panda: The True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China's Most Exotic Animal by Vicki Constantine Croke by Vicki Constantine Croke

A mostly fascinating look at the amazing life of Ruth Harkness, who became the first Westerner to capture a panda. The best part of the book is the first half, which relates the details behind how and why Harkness set off on that challenging task.

The account loses its way a bit after Harkness captures the panda and delivers it to the United States. That may be because Harkness seemed to lose her way too, after achieving that momentous goal. When you’ve done the impossible, how can you top it?

If you’re an animal lover, there are parts of the book that will be hard to read. The animal collecting frenzy of the time led to awful suffering for those prized animals. It was interesting to learn how Harkness herself can to recognize the wrongs involved and attempt to right some of them.

It’s well-researched and well-written, but occasionally quite discouraging. Sometimes life can be so unfair, and reading about how lost people can be when they don’t have a strong foundation can be heart-wrenching.

If you’ve got younger children, there’s also a picture book about Harkness and her expedition: Mrs. Harkness and the PandaMrs. Harkness and the Panda by Alicia Potter, illustrations by Melissa Sweet. Looks like fun, although I haven’t read it yet!

Publisher’s Description:
Here is the astonishing true story of Ruth Harkness, the Manhattan bohemian socialite who, against all but impossible odds, trekked to Tibet in 1936 to capture the most mysterious animal of the day: a bear that had for countless centuries lived in secret in the labyrinth of lonely cold mountains. In The Lady and the Panda, Vicki Constantine Croke gives us the remarkable account of Ruth Harkness and her extraordinary journey, and restores Harkness to her rightful place along with Sacajawea, Nellie Bly, and Amelia Earhart as one of the great woman adventurers of all time.

Ruth was the toast of 1930s New York, a dress designer newly married to a wealthy adventurer, Bill Harkness. Just weeks after their wedding, however, Bill decamped for China in hopes of becoming the first Westerner to capture a giant panda–an expedition on which many had embarked and failed miserably. Bill was also to fail in his quest, dying horribly alone in China and leaving his widow heartbroken and adrift. And so Ruth made the fateful decision to adopt her husband’s dream as her own and set off on the adventure of a lifetime.

It was not easy. Indeed, everything was against Ruth Harkness. In decadent Shanghai, the exclusive fraternity of white male explorers patronized her, scorned her, and joked about her softness, her lack of experience and money. But Ruth ignored them, organizing, outfitting, and leading a bare-bones campaign into the majestic but treacherous hinterlands where China borders Tibet. As her partner she chose Quentin Young, a twenty-two-year-old Chinese explorer as unconventional as she was, who would join her in a romance as torrid as it was taboo.

Traveling across some of the toughest terrain in the world–nearly impenetrable bamboo forests, slick and perilous mountain slopes, and boulder-strewn passages–the team raced against a traitorous rival, and was constantly threatened by hordes of bandits and hostile natives. The voyage took months to complete and cost Ruth everything she had. But when, almost miraculously, she returned from her journey with a baby panda named Su Lin in her arms, the story became an international sensation and made the front pages of newspapers around the world. No animal in history had gotten such attention. And Ruth Harkness became a hero.

Drawing extensively on American and Chinese sources, including diaries, scores of interviews, and previously unseen intimate letters from Ruth Harkness, Vicki Constantine Croke has fashioned a captivating and richly textured narrative about a woman ahead of her time. Part Myrna Loy, part Jane Goodall, by turns wisecracking and poetic, practical and spiritual, Ruth Harkness is a trailblazing figure. And her story makes for an unforgettable, deeply moving adventure.

Book Details

Title: The Lady and the Panda: The True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China’s Most Exotic AnimalThe Lady and the Panda: The True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China's Most Exotic Animal by Vicki Constantine Croke
Author: Vicki Constantine Croke
Category: Nonfiction / History / Biography
My Rating: 3.5 Stars

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  1. This looks like a fascinating book. Thanks for doing a review on this.


  1. […] mentioned this in my post on the adult nonfiction title The Lady and the Panda, and I was pleasantly surprised at this kids’ version of her story. Obviously as it’s […]

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