Amazon Best of the Month, December 2008
: Before the 18th century, the American buffalo was the largest land mammal in North America, largely predator-free and roaming the continent in numbers estimated in excess of 40 million. In just over a century, widespread slaughter reduced the population to a few hundred head, and the American West lay beneath a till of bleached bones. When Steven Rinella stumbled over a buffalo skull in Yellowstone National Park, it sparked an obsessive search for the beast's past, from its migration across the Bering land bridge to its near extinction at the hands of western settlers. American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon
is his fascinating chronicle, beginning with a search for Black Diamond (the doomed model for the Buffalo Nickel) and including an exploration of "buffalo jumps" (where thousands were run over cliffs by Native American hunters), and tales of bone piles--harvested from the plains for a thriving fertilizer industry--stacked 10 feet high, 20 feet wide, and a half-mile long. Rinella's history is deftly interwoven with his own literal buffalo hunt in Alaska's Wrangell mountains, complete with grizzly bears, raging, ice-rimmed rivers, and bouts of hypothermia and frostbite. Written in a spare style appropriate to the rigors of the frozen wilderness, American Buffalo
is engrossing, informative, funny, and a welcome achievement of both natural history and outdoor adventure. --Jon Foro
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In this spare, eloquent memoir, Rinella (The Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine
) describes his fascination with the American bison, which culminated in his tracking, shooting and butchering one. Rinella was one of 24 people in 2005 to win a lottery to hunt buffalo in the foothills of Alaska's Wrangell Mountains. So Rinella set off into the wilderness to fulfill his lifelong ambition. As he pursues the buffalo herd, Rinella also explores the long relationship between humans and an animal that they drove to the edge of extinction. In his journey through the wilderness, Rinella encounters grizzlies, white water rapids and frostbite; in his trek through history he depicts fur traders, early Native Americans and epics of slaughter that left the prairies littered with buffalo bones. Rinella's understated prose shows great flexibility, and he is by turns moving and downright funny. An experienced outdoorsman and hunter, Rinella writes with authority about the process of turning a living creature into steak, and easily renders an enormous amount of historical and scientific information into a thoroughly engaging narrative. (Dec.)
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