Elephant Company

ElephantCompany_Bestseller-3“This book is about far more than just the war, or even elephants. This is the story of friendship, loyalty and breathtaking bravery that transcends species… A sweeping tale, masterfully written”

–Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants
in The New York Times Book Review

Vicki talks with John Harwood on NPR’s On Point:

The remarkable story of James Howard “Billy” Williams and his bond with the elephants of Burma. In 1920, Williams took a job in the teak business, drawn by the lure of working with the world’s largest land animals.  It was love at first sight.

Impressed with their intelligence, courage, kindness, and humor, he believed that just living with them made him a better man. He worked to cure their ills and he fought for their humane care. Over time, Williams’s uncanny rapport with the elephants transformed him from a carefree young man into the charismatic war hero known as Elephant Bill.

1st clan of elephants

What’s an elephant stairway? Vicki Croke tells the most dramatic story from “Elephant Company”–when the enormous animals did something miraculous–they scaled a sheer cliff. Have a listen on Snap Judgment:

 

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14 thoughts on “Elephant Company

  1. I have just finished Elephant Company and wanted to thank you for this extraordinary book. It allowed me to remember my first trip to Thailand and the (staged) demonstration of the elephants moving huge teak logs around. The life and experiences of Jim Williams are so noteworthy and noble that I am glad you took the time to write them down with such sensitivity and insight.

    David M. Carlson, Ph.D.
    Irvine CA

  2. Just finished reading Elephant Company and just loved it. Thank-you for writing about this great story.
    Linda McHugh
    Quebec, Canada

  3. I have just finished listening to Vicki Croke reading an excerpt from “Elephant Company” on American Public Media, carried in my area by KUHF-FM in Houston TX. I was absolutely enthralled. I love stories like this, and this one reminds me of Dr. Alan Rabinowitz and his bond with the big cats. I almost never listen to NPR at 1 PM on a Saturday, but today it was still on after Weekend Edition and I feel incredibly lucky to have heard this remarkable story about Bill and Bandoola. Likewise, I never listen to the radio at 6 AM on a Sunday, and can’t explain how my radio came on at that ungodly hour one morning last year, but I spent a most wonderful hour listening to OnBeing with Krista Tippett interviewing Dr. Rabinowitz. These two unlikely events make me wonder about coincidence vs. synchronicity. I’m a teacher of 5th & 6th graders in a Jewish school, and my students share my love for animals and nature. They love it when I read parts of the transcript from OnBeing, and they’re going to love it this year when read from my copy of “Elephant Company” which I’m going to order from Amazon.com as soon as I’m finished with this email! Thank you NPR and APM for your excellent programming.
    Pat Rose

  4. I have read Elephant Bill and spent a lot of time in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Burma, Sri Lanka, India and Sumatra the past decade. My travels are all about elephants and the people whose lives are so entwined with theirs and heard Vickie Croke read from Elephant Company just now. I, too, will be ordering my copy of this book as soon as I finish this email.
    Thank you for introducing NPR’s public to a truly magnificent creature whose future is in our hands!
    Linda Reifschneider, President
    Asian Elephant Support http://www.asianelephantsupport.org

  5. After all the stories of cruelty among people of late, it was very comforting to hear the story of caring people working so closely with elephants. Thank you so much Vicki for bringing this tale to life.

  6. Exciting, gripping book. I was not on the disastrous, evacuation “death” treks retreating into India but lost one cousin on southern route. Still have three surviviors who were on the southern and central routes into India.

  7. Elephant Company resonated with me as I lived in Burma for five years as a child. When the Japanese invaded my father walked out of Burma to India on a similar route to that of Elephant Bill. Unfortunately he was alone much of the time and suffered terribly with malaria, lack of food and water not to mention the grueling march through jungle and over mountains. You have described Burma depicting the settings with amazing detail and accuracy.

  8. Thank you for your fascinating, riveting, and wonderfully written and illustrated book. The astonishing feat of “The Elephant Stairway” puts me in mind of Ernest Shackleton’s equally astonishing feat of rescue in the South Atlantic in 1916, as recounted by Caroline Alexander in her wonderful book The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition.

    On page 218 in your book, you mention the bungalow called “East Knoll” which Susan and Treve Williams shared “with another woman, Mrs. Robertson and her two small sons.” I was the younger of the two and have a distant memory of Treve and Shillong. My elder brother Struan, who lives in Scotland, would remember more. At the time of the Japanese invasion, my father owned McGregor & Co. with teak operations in Rangoon and Prome, where we were born.

    Peter John Robertson
    Ontario, Canada

  9. Dear Vicki,
    My husband read Elephant Company first and, laughing out loud or with tears in his eyes, would tell me I had to read it, too. I did, my nightly treat for many nights. I also laughed and cried. Last night after reading the very last page, I came here ‘for more’. Yours is the kind of book I miss when it’s finished. The kind of story that breaks my heart for the cruelties people can inflict on each other and animals in time of war – as well as every day. The kind of story that fills me with heart-lifting joy for the extraordinary love, courage and beauty within so many people, especially those stellar few like ‘Bill Williams’.
    The elephants themselves, however, were the reason I first opened the book. Your descriptions of those magnificent creatures and their innate and learned behaviours were breathtaking. I didn’t need to be convinced of the power of the human-animal connection, I believe in it fully and have experienced it deeply. I am grateful to you for so expertly sharing that message. I fervently hope my own book, a novel in progress that features the healing power of horses, will touch my readers in at least some small way as your true story touched me.
    Thank you for the incredible, detailed work you put into Elephant Company. I enjoy your clean yet evocative writing style.
    Cathy Kern

  10. I am reading your wonderful book out loud to my 10-year old. We are having fascinating discussions—cultures, vocabulary, war, life cycles, conservation,… This book has it all. We cried when Guide Man and his mother died; we cheered when the young female led the convoy across the mile-wide. Every night we run upstairs get into bed and carve out enough time to read a few chapters. It is going by too quickly. This could be a great history-day project for school. Thanks for opening our world to the amazing world of elephants and to Billy Williams.

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