As the subtitle of David Quammen's Monster of God: The Man-Eating Predator in the Jungles of History and the Mind
suggests, his fascination centers on those animals that raise human "awareness of being meat," and he likens the historic impact of these predators to modern-day car accidents: sudden, unexpected, life-changing. While his research is extraordinary--encompassing extensive field work and diverse reading on the science and lore surrounding predatory animals--Quammen's peripatetic mind jumps from history to psychology to ecology and from Africa to Russia to Australia, sometimes leaving his readers without a base camp to recuperate during the breath-taking journey.
His research on the lions of Gir forest in India, on the crocodiles of Northern Australia, on the bears of the Carpathian Mountains in Romania, and on the Siberian tigers of Far East Russia finds animals held in constant tension, encircled by every-expanding human populations. But Quammen doesn't oversimplify the conflicts. Often, in fact, Quammen has so much to say about competing interests that he makes several false starts before finding his true theme. Recalling his reading in the l970s literature on crocodiles in Africa, for example, Quammen abruptly jumps to a failed farming and reintroduction project begun in India before finally settling into the investigation of Northern Australia's Crocodylus Park.
These changes in geography, time, and perspective can be disorienting in a book that is already complicated by its several competing approaches. Adding to the abundance, Quammen explores human population growth projections, images of the Leviathan in the Bible, keystone species theory, the Muskrat hypothesis (the idea that the "wastage parts" of an animal species are the ones most likely to suffer predation), and the 1994 discovery of the Chauvet cave paintings. Yet Quammen, author of The Soing of the Dodo moves with such ease through this wilderness of ideas that even the most difficult material becomes palatable. --Patrick OKelley
From Publishers Weekly
With equal parts lucid travel narrative and scholarly rumination, Quammen (The Song of the Dodo) describes the fascinating past, tenuous present and bleak future of four supremely adapted predators who are finding themselves increasingly out of place in the modern world. The animals-Indian lions, Australian crocodiles, Russian brown bears and Siberian tigers-share more in common than alpha roles in their respective environments and dwindling prospects for maintaining them; they are, as the book pointedly notes, man-eaters, animals that can and do feed on human flesh. Quammen admits that the term may seem antiquated, but, he writes, "there's just no precise and gender-neutral alternative that says the same thing with the same degree of terse, atavistic punch." He looks at the animals both up close and from an intellectual distance, examining them in their threatened enclaves in the wild and pondering what these killers have meant to us in our religion and art from the pages of the Bible and Beowulf to Norse sagas and African poetry. His writing is sharp and vital, whether depicting his guide's chance childhood encounter with a lion cub or the heat of a rollicking crocodile hunt in a soupy river. Equally resonant are his arguments for why these particular animals excite such fear and fascination in us, and how we will suffer in terms practical and profound if they are eliminated completely from their habitats and confined to zoos and human memory. The crisp reportorial immediacy and sobering analysis make for a book that is as powerful and frightening as the animals it chronicles.
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