Escape from the circus

Last Chain on Billie

Billie, an Asian elephant captured as a baby and trained for the circus, serves as the focal point for Carol Bradley's history of animals in American circuses. Last Chain on Billie: How One Extraordinary Elephant Escaped the Big Top (St. Martin's Press, $25.99) follows Billie from capture to her eventual release to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee—hence the “last chain” of the title. It's a thorough examination of the mistreatment of animals captured, trained and exhibited for the entertainment of humans. Exhaustively footnoted, Bradley details cruel training practices and the ethical questions around using animals this way. While Billie is the exemplar of these practices, the book's mission is to inform and outrage, and it is extremely effective at that.