"THREE KINGDOMS OF INDO-CHINA" by Harold J. Coolidge, Jr. and Theodore Roosevelt. Thomas Y. Crowell Co., New York, N.Y. $3.00.
IT was Steffanson who remarked that to an explorer adventures are a mark of incompetence. "Three Kingdoms of Indo-China" is the chronicle of an expedition that spent six months in one of the least known but most glamorous corners of the world and except for the tragic death of one of its members by malaria, the experiences of those who undertook it were exciting events rather than adventures in the derogatory sense.
Written as the by-product of an eminently successful scientific foray, this volume is not a handbook or history of the country. But as an absorbing narrative, it does succeed in giving us much of the flavor of a land where alarm clocks lie buried with emperors and it is good form to have stained teeth. The Indo-China wing of the Kelly-Roosevelt Field Museum Expedition, headed by Harold Coolidge left remote Lao Kay early in 1929. With its impressive impedimenta packed on some ninety sturdy little ponies, tended by their mafous or native drivers, the safari toiled over the ridge of Tonkin and Laos. After several weeks of overland travel, the four American scientists embarked on frail native canoes and floated down the waters of the Nam Hu and later the mighty Mekong.
Six months in the field yielded them a rich haul of hundreds of small mammals and birds, material that would answer many a question of taxonomy and faunal distribution. Meanwhile, Theodore Roosevelt was collecting big game for the habitat groups of the Field Museum. His account of his hunt for the huge sledang and the cow-like banting in the jungles of Cochin-China occupies the last third of the narrative.
In view of the authors' function as expedition leaders, one appreciates their matter of fact style, even if one misses highly reflective and imaginative writing. They describe dangerous rapid-shooting and unruly pony caravans in terse language. Consequently, such light touches as the doctor's delight in finding a native with a rare skin disease, the rooster imitating a missionary who disturbed the natives, and the pet gibbon who juggled a Tang Dynasty plate without smashing it come as high spots in the story.
Too seldom does the general public realize the tedious preliminaries which lie behind extended exploration. In this case over a year was spent in careful planning and equipment was sent to the cast from London six months ahead. Personnel is another perplexing problem and Mr. Coolidge deserves praise for handling pugnacious gun-bearors and sly Laotian hunters who tried to cheat him by selling him pheasants they had shot while in his employ. This book should be of local interest not only because its authors are both Harvard men but because Mr. Coolidge's zoological training resulted in part from his activities on the Harvard Liberian Expedition of 1926-27 and his studies of the gorilla, conducted under Harvard auspices. He is at present Assistant Curator of Mammals in the Museum of Comparative Zoology.