Top positive review
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Stories and history from a hunter and buffalo enthusiast
on December 1, 2008
Like many - and like the author, Steven Rinella - I've been long fascinated by the buffalo, so when given the chance at a new book like this, I snapped it up. For anyone with such a fascination, this book will give you a fix, but be aware that a good portion of its content is written from not only a hunter's perspective, but describes the author's actual buffalo hunt and in detail, right down to the skinning and butchering - the latter down to skinning the head and emptying the eye sockets, for that matter. As someone who has hunted in the past and may do so again, I don't mind that, but a non-hunter may find this content off-putting. Rinella's language can also be a bit explicit at times.
The hunt, in fact, is a thread that runs throughout the book. Rinella starts the book with the hunt and returns to it again and again, touching on different aspects: travel to the hunt site, skinning, portaging (including his life-threatening encounter with the frigid Chetaslina and Copper rivers), etc. From chapter 11 on (about the last quarter of the book), most of the book is about the hunt.
Paradoxically, the last chapter is largely about yet another hunt, this time a Nez Perce treaty rights buffalo hunt in Yellowstone, in which the author tries to weave a number of disparate threads together, from protesters to thankful indians to his own thoughts on "letting the buffalo roam." I believe his intent here is to acknowledge the mixed feelings and motives that all hunters have, but to be honest, he is only partially successful, and I'm left unsure of his message (if any). A bit on holding a weeping protester's hand comes off as particularly awkward.
In the first 10 chapters, Rinella's focus is more on the buffalo itself, and on American and Indian history, on discoveries, cultural themes, and stories. It's easy reading, in the most positive sense, and backed by extensive notes and a bibliography at the back of the book. This is the content I was really looking forward to, there's a lot of it, and it is well-written in an evocative style. Rinella keeps quotes and excerpts to a minimum, re-conveying his source material in anecdotal fashion. As a result, it reads like a story telling. (His own hunt, of course, is a story in itself.) There are few photos, which left me wanting more.
I give American Buffalo five stars as a hunting book, or more accurately, a book written for hunters. I do it with some reluctance, as I would prefer to be reviewing the book for general readership. It is not a book I would recommend to non-hunters, however, and the extensive hunting content will inevitably limit its appeal.