Natural-history writer David Petersen's Heartsblood is not so much about hunting, although that controversial subject is an important part of the book, as is a lively, deeply intelligent discussion of what it means to be a human animal aware of what lies outside. Petersen suggests that a true engagement with the natural world requires a keen knowledge of its workings--of how water flows, of how animal populations wax and wane--and a recognition of the realities of life and death.
An avid fisherman and hunter, Petersen has little patience with the yahoos who blast at anything in sight, those thoughtless persons who have given hunting a bad name. Neither does he suffer lightly those who maintain that hunting is morally wrong, for, he insists, in the absence of natural predators, hunters act as a necessary brake on overpopulation, which can lead only to suffering. He has little use for expensive gear, for GPS systems and top-of-the-line weapons, nor for most hunting magazines, which, he says, cater to just those yahoos with a taste for fancy goodies, and which he deems "greedy and increasingly immoral."
With all those peeves and qualifications, it would not be out of place for Petersen to assume a grumpy air. For the most part, however, he does not; he is cordial to those who disagree with his views, which he carefully backs with biological facts, philosophical and anthropological interpretations, and reflections gathered from a half-century's experience in the wild. His book deserves a wide audience, and the ideas within it merit much discussion as thoughtful men and women everywhere do what they can to protect what little is left of nature--a struggle in which hunting, Petersen holds, can play an important part. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
Petersen brings an uncommonly broad perspective to this highly personal, passionate and deeply persuasive argument for responsible hunting. He reminds us that humans have been predominantly hunters for 99% of our species' history; by comparison agriculture occupies merely a brief moment in the human timeline and the era of shrink-wrapped supermarket meat even less. Biologically, we were built to hunt, he contends, a reality carved into the human genome as deeply as wildness imprints the genetic makeup of prey. Denying our genetic predisposition makes us less than fully human, he argues, which will undoubtedly strike many as radical. But Petersen is not a polemicist bent on pushing every citizen into hunting. In fact, he calls himself a "fence-straddler," an advocate of animal welfare (which he differentiates from animal rights) who has been criticized by antihunters as "rabidly prohunting" and knocked by hunters' rights advocates as "an anti in hunter's camouflage." Much of Petersen's argument (his delineation of the three different types of hunters, his criticism of holier-than-thou vegetarianism, his disdain of trophy hunting) treads a well-worn path, but this ambivalence lends his conclusions greater credibility. More unique and provocative is his contention that humans, far from evolving beyond the need to kill our own food, instead risk devolving when we avoid facing firsthand the deaths that sustain our survival. Though he goes overboard in strumming the mystical chord and seems at times too fond of inflated language, Petersen's ambitious analysis of this contentious issue is impressively well reasoned. (Sept.)
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