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

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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.

From the Hardcover edition.

About Vicki Croke

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VICKI CONSTANTINE CROKE has been covering pets and wildlife for more than a decade, and writes the "Animal Beat" column for The Boston Globe. A former writer and producer for CNN, she has been a contributing reporter for the National Public Radio environment show Living on Earth and consults on film and television projects, most recently a two-hour documentary on gorillas for the A&E channel. Croke is the author of The Modern Ark: The Story of Zoos-Past, Present and Future, and has also written for Time, People, The Washington Post, Popular Science, Gourmet, National Wildlife, Discover, International Wildlife, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.From the Hardcover edition.
Published March 25, 2009 by Random House. 400 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math, Education & Reference, Travel. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Lady and the Panda

Kirkus Reviews

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The Boston Globe's "Animal Beat" columnist tells the story of Ruth Harkness, the explorer who brought America its first panda bear.

May 20 2010 | Read Full Review of The Lady and the Panda: The T...

Publishers Weekly

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Constantine Croke, the "Animal Beat" columnist for the Boston Globe, became fascinated by bohemian socialite Harkness, who was left alone and in difficult financial straits in 1936 after her husband died trying to bring a giant panda back from China.

May 02 2005 | Read Full Review of The Lady and the Panda: The T...

Entertainment Weekly

On her debut trip into remote China, Harkness bested all rivals to become the first person to capture a live panda — a baby named Su-Lin that she managed to keep alive and transport to the U.S. While Vicki Constantine Croke's workmanlike account, The Lady and the Panda, repeatedly stumbles wit...

Jul 06 2005 | Read Full Review of The Lady and the Panda: The T...

USA Today

But this summer's pandemonium surrounding the pregnant pandas at zoos across the country made me pick up The Lady and the Panda: The True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China's Most Exotic Animal by Vicki Constantine Croke.To call Croke's insightful, beautifully written w...

| Read Full Review of The Lady and the Panda: The T...

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Suspect in Ross rapes cross-examines victims at trial Every car drives a narrative about who possessed it Building firm Syntheon sees opportunity in construction industry shifts Jury finds Pittsburgh man did not intend to kill boy ...

Jul 10 2005 | Read Full Review of The Lady and the Panda: The T...


Though there are plenty of scenes in which Harkness (who worked as a designer in New York City before marrying wealthy sportsman Bill Harkness) swans about "with a whisky soda...and a Chesterfield," Croke shows that her heroine was no dilettante.

Jul 25 2005 | Read Full Review of The Lady and the Panda: The T...

Bookmarks Magazine

Charles Matthews San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars "In writing this extensively researched book, Croke does her best to help Harkness take her place among Amelia Earhart and Sacagawea as one of history’s great female explorers.

Oct 15 2007 | Read Full Review of The Lady and the Panda: The T...

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