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Modoc: The True Story of the Greatest Elephant That Ever Lived

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  8,888 ratings  ·  1,461 reviews
A captivating true story of loyalty, friendship, and high adventure that spans several decades and three continents, Modoc is one of the most remarkable true stories ever told, perfect for fans of The Zookeeper's Wife or Water for Elephants.

Raised together in a small German circus town, a boy and an elephant formed a bond that would last their entire lives, and would be te
Paperback, 352 pages
Published August 26th 1998 by Harper Perennial (first published September 9th 1997)
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Steph I know this is an old question, but for anyone else wondering -- I say it's not appropriate for sensitive kids under 13. Although this is easy to read…moreI know this is an old question, but for anyone else wondering -- I say it's not appropriate for sensitive kids under 13. Although this is easy to read and a sweet love story between a boy and his elephant spanning their lifetimes, there are several traumatizing scenes. (less)
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Community Reviews

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4.21  · 
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 ·  8,888 ratings  ·  1,461 reviews

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The ONLY reason I read past page 3 was that this was a book club pick. If I were to teach a class in creative writing right now, I would use this book as an example of what NOT to do in your writing. First, is it fiction or non-fiction? Seems that the "author" is claiming non-fiction, but this story is terribly contrived and rings as untrue in almost every chapter. The dialogue is positively laughable. It was hilarious that all of the characters from all of the different countries all spoke the ...more
Jan 18, 2011 rated it did not like it
I gave this book one star because Mr. Helfer has passed it off as a true story, when clearly, it is not. Apparently, there was indeed an elephant named Modoc—there were six documented with that name, in fact. Yet, any reader with a critical eye can see that this is a tale of pure fantasy, with only the most distant connection to truth.

The events of the story are certainly exciting and provide a good plot line, full of adventure and drama, especially for an animal lover such as myself, but there
Sep 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: recommend
I really liked this book. At the end of the book, you find out who the author is and how he came to know this story. I have to say, I believe it is all true. I never knew I could come to love an elephant like this! I appreciated the simpleness of the writing. The beauty of this story was in the simpleness and in the emotions that Helfer described and in which you felt. I did feel that the book had an undertone of sadness, but it is one of those griefs that is worthy and even worthwhile. I highly ...more
Mar 11, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish, yuck
I am only halfway through this book and I can hardly bear to turn one page after the other. Believe me, if this book had not been a book club book, I would burn it! It one were teaching the meaning of anthropomorphism, giving human qualities to animals, this would be right up there on the top of the list. "he knows that the chain around his foot is the right thing" for an elephant. Oh, come on!! There is so much poetic license in this "true" story that it shouldn't even be on the fiction list. S ...more
Oct 14, 2012 rated it did not like it
i think maybe i have read too many books in my life to be able to like this book. or maybe i am too jaded. but overall, i felt like the book metronomed between insultingly childlike language, unbelieveably gooey and ridonkulous "love" scenes, and near-constant celestine-prophesy-eque new-ageyness. i honestly wished the author would shut up, stop trying to make the story impressive and just talk to me about the damned elephant, who seemed pretty cool.

sometimes i was able to set aside the issues i
Dec 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: animal lovers
This book reads like a novel, with the main character being an amazing circus elephant. It really speaks to the bond between people and animals... and to the very real possibility that elephants are a higher species than humans. How can I tell you how beautifully she dances?
Before there was Dumbo, before but not quite before there was Toomai of the Elephants, there was Modoc and there was Bram, the boy who loved her. Boy and elephant, born on the same day, in the same hour, two souls intertwined throughout a lifetime.

This true story starts out in Germany, but soon travels the world. More adventures than you can count, a fearsome storm and shipwreck that rival (or maybe inspired) Life of Pi, life with princes in India, not to mention the legendary Mahout elephant t
Jan 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
I think this is a wonderful story, but it is not written well at all. This books is written by an animal trainer, and on the one hand, I commend him for doing such a great job, but on the other hand, writing is clearly not his calling.

That being said, he is writing a so-called "true story" but most of the book is written from the point of view of someone else, so you lose some of the first hand experience. Therefore, the title character seems to lack feeling and emotion. The author does state at
Dec 29, 2008 rated it did not like it
Seriously? This book was total twaddle. I wasn't touched, I didn't cry, and I didn't emotionally react to any of the one-dimensional characters. Let's get this straight -- after floating in water during a hurricane for many days, the boy refuses to get on a boat to go to safety because the elephant can't come. After a few more days of floating, he decides to give up, and just as he's dipping under the water, ready to take in a breath of water, he hears a boat motor. It's a Christmas miracle! Des ...more
Paul Pessolano
Jan 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book was first published in 1997. I have been looking at it over the last several years promising myself that I would read it. I was fascinated by the cover and the reviews. The cover alone should have you reading the book. My only regret is that I did not read it the first time I saw it.

"Modoc" is probably the most unusual pet book I have ever read. It is hard to believe that this is a "true story".

Bram Gunterstein was the son of a circus animal trainer. He was born on his father's farm an
May 24, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Highly disappointing and frustrating! Fiction, posing as a non-fiction biography. And not even well-written fiction. What a con!!! I'm stunned that so many people rated this so highly, and without questioning any or all of its validity.

Very little, if anything is "True" in Helfer's book. The longer I read the more red-flags went up left and right questioning the legitimacy of its contents. So many people/places/things were nowhere to be found upon researching. But when Helfer described Modoc as
Mar 25, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: bookclub
For a book that is "the true story" it is amazing how much of it is complete fiction. For starters the entire first half of the book! Nothing is true until Modoc gets to the circus and then only itty bitty pieces may be true. There was a fire but no elephants were in the tent at the time.

After digging just a little bit I came to realize that when I was little I saw the elephant in question at Lion country Safari.

Besides not being a "true" story, the writing is very poor and I remember thinking t
Sep 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoirs
Story Description:

Modoc is the joint biography of a man and an elephant born in a small German circus town on the same day in 1896. Bram was the son of an elephant trainer, Modoc the daughter of his prize performer. The boy and animal grew up devoted to each other. When the Wunderzircus was sold to an American, with no provision to take along the human staff, Bram stowed away on the ship to prevent being separated from his beloved Modoc. A shipwreck off the Indian coast and a sojourn with a maha
Sep 04, 2009 rated it liked it
An utterly amazing true story about an elephant, Mosie, and her trainer, Bram! If you like books about amazing animals and what they do - this is for you. Shipwrecks, fires, poisoning, terrorist revolutionary uprisings, teak forests, upspritualism and an anazing love story between one man and his elephant! This book is very plot driven. The bits on spiritualism didn't quite get me thinking.... I would say yup, I agree, and then that was the end. Nothing to ponder over. For example - one love nev ...more
Jan 22, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2016-read
What a bizarre book! Most of the book seems like stories a grandfather would make up for his grandchildren about the former life of their pet dog they adopted at the pound. Even the youngest of the grandchildren would realize that these crazy adventures did not really happen.

Then there are a few scenes in the book that make you wonder if you had accidentally picked up a completely different, and much darker, book. There is a prolonged and graphic attempted rape part that makes one think we shoul
Kim Crane
Jun 03, 2012 rated it it was ok
I was exhilarated after reading this book. I wanted so badly to believe that this special elephant and this special boy and all of the incredible things that happened to them were true. I found the narrator off-putting through most of the book, but I forgave him because he brought me this beautiful (true!) story. I would have forgiven the extreme poetic license, laughable dialogue, and general editorial negligence if this book delivered what set the reader up for from the subtitle: The True Stor ...more
Nov 11, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2015
I wanted to like this book, especially as it was recommended to me, and I do hate when I don't like something someone else really liked. But I had a lot of trouble with this. First, I am not really sure it's a true story. In fact, I am pretty convinced it's NOT. I can't find any corroborating information to prove to me it was--about ANY of the events in the story. There was not a single date mentioned. Not Bram's birthday or death, or many other dates of great significance.

Now, if it HAD been a
Bark (Has Atrocious Taste)
I love true animal stories and this one came highly recommended by one of my reading friends. I know I would have enjoyed it much more if I could have read it without distractions but quiet time is impossible to come by in my house.

This story is supposedly a true one about an elephant and a boy who grow up together but some of the adventures truly require a big gulp of suspension of disbelief. I'm thinking the author exaggerated a wee bit to embellish his story but maybe that's just me . . . De
Sep 01, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
Half star for the sheer cajones that the author (and I use this word lightly) had to have to write these sentences:

"Gertie had fallen asleep under Bram's gentle stroking. A wave of fulfillment swept through him as he realized his happiness. While Gertie slept, Modoc found a sandbar just beneath the surface of the water where she could lie and scratch her sides, rubbing all the ecstasy off."

Is this a three-way (girl, boy, elephant) Harlequin romance or a implausible "true" story that should be in
Aug 21, 2008 rated it liked it
This story highlights a special relationship between an elephant and a boy who were born on the same day in Germany. Beginning as part of a circus family, the two spend the majority of their lives together surviving many obstacles and near-death experiences. The love Modoc and Bram have for each other and the way they are able to communicate is very inspiring. This part of the story I loved.

I thought some parts would have best been left out- some brief but graphic descriptions are used to relate
Jan 12, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
10 AÑOS para terminar este libro. ASÍ de aburrido está. Y digo, de la segunda mitad para el final se pone chido, pero bien podría haber sido eso, o que con la edad me hice más condescendiente al mismo libro para poder terminarlo rápido.

Para ser sincero, gran parte del libro gira en torno a un elefante. Lo entiendo. Es un libro para zoólogos, pero como no es mi caso, creo que no fue tan "excitante" seguir 70 años de la vida del paquidermo Modoc. Sí, tiene sus partes geniales, hasta digamos que un
Sep 09, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club
I felt like the writing of this story was faux-poetic in that the author was trying to be deep and moving, but was unsuccesful. I could get past the writing for the story, but I was bothered by the lack of any sense of time and by the ease by which this young man made his way from continent to continent- not that the traveling itself was easy, but he had no trouble fitting in to new environments where I would expect his age and linguistic knowledge to be a barrier. I was also frustrated by the n ...more
Aug 31, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: new-years-2009
I borrowed this book from the library because I remember someone at work saying that it's the best book. They were wrong. This is the worst book. It is so insanely poorly written that I cannot believe it was published. The moment I started reading it I was wincing at how bad the writing was. However, I thought to myself, surely the story will get better and that will carry me through. The story did not get better. The only reason that I finished this book was that when I went to return the book ...more
Aug 05, 2013 rated it did not like it
I really tried to enjoy this book, but finally put it down about halfway through. I am aware that a great deal of controversy surrounded the book because the subtitle indicates that the tale is true, although it so obviously isn't. That didn't bother me as much as the poor writing and the bizarre New Age vibe that gradually escalated throughout the first half. Although the main character, a boy named Bram, and Modoc the elephant are sympathetic, likeable characters, their personalities weren't w ...more
Jul 31, 2008 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one
True story, my Aunt Ethel. While Modoc and Bram may have existed, this account of their lives is obviously wishful, and has little basis in reality. Helfer has apparently trained elephants for films, but he doesn't seem to know much about how they act in the wild. His account of breeding Asian elephants is full of factual errors, and he speaks of Modoc's tusks when, according to the photos included in the text, she never had tusks (as most female Asian elephants do not). What a waste of time.
Audrey Terry
Modoc may be one of my favorite books this year. I mean, who can say no to amazing elephants? And this is more than just about an elephant, it's about the greatest elephant that ever lived! Without giving away spoilers, Modoc and Bram's story is one you'll be glad you'd read. You'll cry, you'll be angry, and you'll smile.... a lot.
Kate Connors
Jul 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. It is a story about an elephant and a boy born on the same day. It's a story of unconditional love and survival.
Mar 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
A beautiful story. Friendship and love on a huge scale...wonderful book.
Modoc: The True Story of the Greatest Elephant That Ever Lived is one of the greatest stories that has ever been told. It took me a long time to read this book--not because I wasn't into it, but because I kept wanting to postpone the inevitable sob fest that was even referenced in a blurb on the book's cover. I felt such a myriad of emotions throughout the course of Modoc: childlike wonder, nostalgia, heart ache, pure joy, and nearly constant bursts of love.

From the Black Forest of Germany, to t
Nick Rath
Jun 11, 2017 rated it liked it
Compared to the other book I was reading at the time, this book takes the back seat. The story of Modoc was told in more of a narrative tone by really describing the life of the trainer who worked with Modoc throughout her career in the circus. Lots of boring dialogue and drama fill the story which can be good at times but overall does not appeal to me. The only portion that saves the book for me is the suspenseful ending where the elephants get poisoned by a mysterious evil man and it's happy f ...more
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“Those of us who are in tune with nature and animals know it is our way of life, Bram. There is a connection to all living things, a vibration of Life. Animals were not given a power of choice. A lion does not try and eat legumes, nor an elephant meat. We believe the best way to communicate with nature, God, is through a liaison: the animals..... Nature hears one voice and obeys it. That is why ten or ten thousand birds may rise from the surface of a lake at the same time and yet never touch one another. Man only hears his own voice. He constantly bumps into another. Even his voice mirrors his erratic walk, jealousy, hate, ego, pride, lying, cheating. He makes his own judgements and falls prey to his greed. Remember, the moon is reflected on one drop of water as is the entire ocean-- so it is with God. He is reflected ins each living thing-- in a grain of sand as the entire shore, one star as the whole universe. Each animal as in all creatures. -Jagrat” 9 likes
“A good teacher teaches what he has been taught. A wise one teaches what he has learned” 7 likes
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