Writing & News

Reviews of Delia Akeley and the Monkey by Iain McCalman


Review in Australian Book Review by Libby Robin March 2022

“This book is about Africa but also about the stifling limits of New York that drove Akeley, his two wives, and JT to different sorts of madness. Fevers are often associated with African jungles, but the expectations of the urban jungle of Manhattan added another level of craziness. As museums serve postcolonial audiences today, their silences and historical aspirations become even more important. Delia Akeley and the Monkey is a highly original dive into the intergenerational museum family.”

Review in The Age/Sydney Morning Herald by Jessie Tu February 2022

“Iain McCalman’s Delia Akeley & the Monkey is a confronting read, insofar as one finds oneself in the difficult position of assessing actions of those in the past using hindsight — it’s hard to accomplish this task without judgment, without acknowledging the “humane revolution” that has taken place since the 1960s in the ways we co-exist with our fellow animals.

Yet McCalman, a cultural historian who has published books on science and the natural environment, paints a sympathetic picture of a woman who lived at atime when her gender ensured her life was contained and reduced.”

Preview in Books and Publishing November 2021

“On an African hunting expedition in 1909, an American woman named Delia Akeley captured a baby vervet monkey to settle an argument. It was a casual act that changed both their lives: while Delia initially intended to return the monkey to the wild, she found herself so charmed by her new companion that she decided to keep her. For the next nine years, JT the monkey was both a beloved pet and a subject of intense study as Delia—who had a natural flair for primatology that went largely unrecognised thanks to the gender politics of her time—carefully observed JT’s interactions with humans. Historian Iain McCalman’s meticulously researched account of this unlikely pairing recovers the little-known story of a remarkable woman and engages with the complex ethical questions raised by Akeley’s fateful decision in 1909. The book goes beyond the near-decade Akeley and JT spent together to examine the far-reaching ramifications of their union, both for Akeley herself and for the field of natural history. While McCalman argues persuasively that Akeley should be remembered as a patriarchy-fighting forerunner to renowned primatologists such as Jane Goodall, he’s also clear-eyed about her flaws and her position as a privileged white woman in a problematic colonial context. Delia Akeley and the Monkey is an illuminating and important book that will appeal to readers who enjoy history and creative nonfiction by writers such as Mark McKenna and Sophie Cunningham.”