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The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival Hardcover – August 24, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 329 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (August 24, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307268934
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307268938
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (306 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #205,642 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, August 2010: Deep in the frigid Siberian wilderness, an Amur tiger hunts. Fearsome strength is at the command of a calculating mind that relentlessly stalks its newest prey: man. Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the taiga, John Vaillant provides an unforgettable true account of a lethal collision between man and beast in a remote Russian village during the late 1990's. At its core, The Tiger is the story of a desperate poacher who picked the wrong tiger to accost. Yet it engages the reader on political, socioeconomic, and conservation fronts in order to explain how the stage was set for a deadly showdown. It's a gutsy approach that could easily lead to chaotic storytelling, but Vaillant is careful to keep the bone-chilling storyline taut by capturing the intensity of an animal worthy of our greatest respect and deepest fears. --Dave Callanan

Christopher McDougall Reviews The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival

Christopher McDougall is the author of national bestseller Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes and the Greatest Race the World has Never Seen. He is a former war correspondent for the Associated Pressand a three-time National Magazine Award finalist. He's written for magazines ranging from Esquire and The New York Times Magazine to Outside and Men’s Health. He does his own running among the Amish farms around his home in rural Pennsylvania. Read his review of The Tiger:

A few years ago, I interviewed a Delaware state trooper named Butch LeFebvre who’d been assigned to investigate rumors that a mountain lion was roaming the outskirts of Wilmington. It was silly, of course--big cats had been wiped out on the East Coast more than a century ago. But just to be safe, LeFebvre strapped on night-vision goggles, loaded a rifle with a tranquilizer dart, and set off into the woods behind the Du Pont Country Club. By 3 A.M, he’d spotted nothing, so he headed back to his truck. The next evening, he returned to the same spot for another look--and found paw tracks following his footprints all the way back to where he’d parked. LeFebvre was an experienced hunter, but he learned something that night: one killer out there was doing a great job of watching and thinking and learning, and it wasn’t him.

To this day, the Wilmington lion has never attacked or even emerged from the suburban shadows. Not so lucky, however, is the Siberian village in John Vaillant’s chilling The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival. In 1997, deep in the remote Russian backcountry, a gigantic Amur tiger begins acting like the only thing more savage than a wild animal--us. It doesn’t just attack villagers; it hunts them, picking its targets like a hitman with a contract, at one point even dragging a mattress out of a shack so it can lie comfortably in wait until the woodsman returns home. A few days later, the woodsman’s horrified friends discover remains “so small and so few they could have fit in a shirt pocket.”

Vaillant is as masterful with science as he is with suspense. We feel what it’s like to be in a tiny settlement cut off from the rest of the world, at the mercy of a beast so swift that it can’t be seen until its mouth bites down on your face. Tigers, Vaillant explains, are nature’s last word in mammalian weapons design. Big as three NFL linebackers bundled into one, armed with claws longer than fingers and jaws rated on a strength-scale used for dinosaurs, tigers are built like missiles and can out-swim, out-climb, out-fox and out-run just about anything that breathes. That’s the bad news; the worse news is, they’re also armed with memory and invisibility. “I have seen all the other animals,” one poacher says, “but I have never seen a tiger--not once.”

What enthralled me as much as the deadly cat-and-man game at the center of The Tiger are the side-stories that inform it. Vaillant introduces us to characters like Jakob von Uexkull, a Victorian-era baron-turned-physiologist who specialized in umwelt: the lost art of immersing yourself in another creature’s psyche. You crouch to the height of the animal you’re seeking, learning to see the world through its eyes, inhale scents through its nostrils, feel cool earth and crushed leaves beneath its padded paws. There are hunters in Siberia, Vaillant tells us, who can sniff the woods and identify animals by smell. These maestros believe killing a tiger without cause is as vile as murder, and such a violation of natural order that calamity is destined to follow. They feel such kinship with the big cats that they’ll even share their meals by leaving hunks of meat in the woods, convinced the tigers will re-pay them in kind with a deer haunch when times are lean. They see themselves as blood brothers of the Amurs--but as Vaillant shows us, no one fights more fiercely than relatives.

(Photo © Luis Escobar)


From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The grisly rampage of a man-eating Amur, or Siberian, tiger and the effort to trap it frame this suspenseful and majestically narrated introduction to a world that few people, even Russians, are familiar with. Northeast of China lies RussiaÖs Primorye province, "the meeting place of four distinct bioregions"–taiga, Mongolian steppes, boreal forests, and Korean tropics--and where the last Amur tigers live in an uneasy truce with an equally diminished human population scarred by decades of brutal Soviet politics and postperestroika poverty. Over millennia of shared history, the indigenous inhabitants had worked out a tenuous peace with the Amur, a formidable hunter that can grow to over 500 pounds and up to nine feet long, but the arrival of European settlers, followed by decades of Soviet disregard for the wilds, disrupted that balance and led to the overhunting of tigers for trophies and for their alleged medicinal qualities. Vaillant (The Golden Spruce) has written a mighty elegy that leads readers into the lair of the tiger and into the heart of the Kremlin to explain how the Amur went from being worshipped to being poached. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

John Vaillant is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, National Geographic, Outside, and Men's Journal, among others. Of particular interest to Vaillant are stories that explore collisions between human ambition and the natural world. His work in this and other fields has taken him to five continents and five oceans.

His first book, The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed (Norton, 2005), was a bestseller and won several awards, including the Governor General's Literary Award for Non-Fiction (Canada).

His second book, The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival (Knopf, 2010) was an international bestseller and has been translated into 15 languages. Film rights have been optioned by Plan B, Brad Pitt's production company.

In 2014, Vaillant won Yale University's Windham Campbell prize for nonfiction (worldwide English).

His first novel, The Jaguar's Children (HMH, 2015), is coming out in January.

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Customer Reviews

The story is stretched thin by too much backstory about too many people and human-tiger encounters.
D. Wadsworth
I'll let you decide- but it is safe to say once you read this book you wont look at tigers the same way ever again.
C.E.
John Vaillant's creative non-fiction work The Tiger, A True Story of Vengeance and Survival, is excellent reading.
Ralph H. Watkins

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

226 of 233 people found the following review helpful By Alan Mazer on April 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Someone asked me recently what sort of non-fiction I like to read, and I had to think about it. I have a few niche areas that I enjoy, but generally all I ask of a book is that it keep me engaged and give me something to think about. This approach means that I read a lot of books in areas where I have no expertise and little real interest, merely because someone did a great job of presenting the material and I got hooked. "The Tiger" is one of these books.

Primarily it's the story of a tiger, hungry, injured, and irritated, which starts killing off the members of a Russian community, and of the men tasked with tracking the tiger and killing it. But there's a lot more here, too: interesting background on tigers and other animals, and how they hunt; the culture of the Russian Far East, including issues surrounding the Chinese-Russian border; the effects of perestroika on poorer Russians. And it's all woven together in a manner that made me want to keep reading.

I was particularly intrigued by how recent the events in the story are, being from the late 1990s. The people depicted are clearly on the fringes of Russian society, living literally hand to mouth just to stay alive. That someone could have a TV and other modern conveniences, and still rely for their survival on hunting small game and gathering pine cones, was not something that had occurred to me. Also interesting were the observations on how, through many years, tigers and people have lived together peacefully in the Far East, yet in a balance so fragile that either may be forced to hunt the other just to survive. And of course there are some fascinating statistics on tigers, both their declining numbers, and their physical abilities.

While this book is footnoted and has an extensive bibliography, I would suggest it for anyone who simply likes a good adventure story. It's a great read!
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106 of 110 people found the following review helpful By Bryan Newman VINE VOICE on June 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is far more than just an animal-eats-man thriller like Alaska Bear Tales. It does have a rather small story of a man eating tiger terrorizing a community, but it balloons out, covering all the eddies of history, natural history, economics, and culture that moved the characters to this moment where their worlds collide.

The story could easily be covered in 160 words on page two of a newspaper as some AP wire from Russia. Or in a narrative book it would take maybe 20 pages or so pages. But here the author brings nearly every back story to light in an amazing parade and alignment of stars that borders on fate. The Soviets annexing Northern Manchuria, Defending it from China, bringing Russians to the far East, the crumbling of Soviet systems, the crippling impoverishment of the community, the open markets to the South, the Chinese appetite for tiger products... Everything lines up to bring this confrontation in a way too clear cut for fiction.

I will not say that this book is a slow read, because I had problems putting it down, but at times it was frustrating that the core story of the tiger never seemed to move closer. It reads like a local history text, a biographic series of many of the main characters and a natural history account of tigers all blended together. I don't think I have ever come away from a book feeling like I knew the context of events better. The image created of post Perestroika Russia alone is worth the price of the book.

However, I can see some people being turned off by all the detours and side streets the book takes. This is not a straight narrative.
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54 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Gary Greenberg on September 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The remarkable thing about John Vaillant's The Tiger is not that it's a total page-turner, or that he manages to stuff the Tiger with so much fascinating natural and political history that you come away with three or four points added to your IQ, or that his lush descriptions are sensuous without being cloying and muscular without being macho, or that his characters are indelible and engaging and worthy of The Dirty Dozen or Where Eagles Dare, or even that the tiger and its hunters will relentlessly stalk your consciousness when you aren't reading the book (quite a trick in attention-challenged times). It's that you will, without even knowing it, and even if you don't want to, find yourself suddenly occupying the tiger's world, and seeing it through his eyes, feeling its wounds and its anguish and its hatred, and, above all, rooting for it against your fellow humans. Let this book hunt you down and pounce on you. You won't regret it.
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121 of 145 people found the following review helpful By Rodney Meek VINE VOICE on May 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a very well-researched account of the hunt for a tiger that was terrorizing a remote Russian community in the Far East in 1997. In the wake of perestroika and the fall of the Communist regime, the economy of the former Soviet Union cratered, and plenty of people in the far-flung territories out past Siberia were reduced to a subsistence level of living, taking to the forests to poach game and forage for natural resources coveted by the nearby Chinese. Some turned to hunting the local Amur tigers, all parts of which would fetch a high price across the border. Consequently it was inevitable that conflicts between man and tiger would arise.

The problem with this account is that there is not a whole lot that can be known for certain about the tiger's attacks and about the actions and intentions of the victims prior to their deaths. As there were no witnesses, it remains uncertain what all parties involved, the tiger and its forest-haunting human prey, were up to over the course of the few days of the predator's brief reign of terror. As a result, the author is reduced to a great deal of conjecture and speculation. Worse, because of this absence of solid evidence, he's forced into endless digressions to pad out the story. There's plenty of material about other tiger-human interactions and folklore and research across the centuries, and efforts at conservation, and the lifestyles of Russian poachers and even of rogue Germans in hiding in Namibia in WWII. And every figure involved in the hunt for the killer tiger, no matter how inconsequential or tangential to the core of the story, gets a capsule biography.

Also troubling is the author's propensity to ascribe feelings and motivations to this particular tiger.
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