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Between Man and Beast”: A great explorer with a secret

A renowned Victorian explorer stands before his colleagues, accused of fabricating accounts of the strange beasts he encountered in a remote jungle. The explorer responds by challenging the most energetic of these detractors to join him in an expedition back to the site of his celebrated discoveries. That's the opener of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Lost World," a ripping adventure yarn published in the early 20th century, with a main character, Professor Challenger, thought by many to be based on the real-life physiologist William Rutherford.

But as Monte Reel persuasively argues in his equally ripping (and far more intellectually satisfying) "Between Man and Beast: An Unlikely Explorer, the Evolution Debates, and the African Adventure That Took the Victorian World by Storm," another likely model for Challenger is Paul Du Chaillu, the first modern naturalist to observe gorillas in their native habitat. This elusive, gallant and endearing man was born on a date and in a place unknown, to a mother who has never been identified. His story, as told by Reel, is both a tale of plucky self-invention and an ironic reflection on the sometimes ugly inner workings of the scientific world.

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