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Monster of God: The Man-Eating Predator in the Jungles of History and the Mind Hardcover – September 8, 2003

4.3 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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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 O’Kelley

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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 515 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (September 8, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393051404
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393051407
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #884,922 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Tim F. Martin on November 11, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I really enjoyed this exceptional book on the mythology, culture, history, and biology of man-eaters around the world. Though he primarily focuses on four specific animals - the Asiatic lion in the forest of Gir in India, the saltwater crocodile in northern Australia, the brown bear in the forests and mountains of Romania, and the Siberian (or more properly Amur) tiger of the Russian Far East- author David Quammen discusses other predators as well, such as the African lion, the grizzly of North America, the Nile crocodile, and the leopard as well as some now extinct species.
Quammen does an excellent job of covering just about any aspect you might wish to learn about animals that occasionally dine on man. Aspects of ecology are very well covered, introducing the reader to many key concepts in ecology (particularly as they relate to these creatures), such as the terms alpha predator, keystone species, and trophic cascades, showing that for a healty ecosystem - including healthy plants and prey animals - the presence of a viable population of predator is crucial. The education this book gave me on ecology was quite remarkable, with the author going into very readable detail on many issues and very interestingly their history as well, showing some of the personalities behind their conception. The individual biology and paleontology of each of the focus species in this book are well covered, as well as that of close and more distant relations, covering everything from the rise and fall of sabertooth mammals (feline and otherwise) to the spread of the tiger species throughout Asia (and its later evolution into various subspecies).
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Format: Hardcover
. . . and meet politics and globalisation. The encounter, reported by North America's foremost nature journalist, is an informative, exquisite read. Quammen's value in explaining Nature's realm is demonstrated by his many excellent works. This one achieves a new level of excellence as he travels the planet seeking that which we fear most - predators. Not just any predators, but what he terms the "alpha predators" - large, solitary and figures of fearful legend. Legends play a large role in how we view the rest of Nature. No matter how strenuously we try to separate ourselves from our environment, Quammen argues, it will return to confront us.
Quammen focuses on four predators in this account - the Asian lion, the crocodile, bears in Romania and "Siberian" tigers. Surrounded by humans and their legends and lifestyles, this quartette symbolises our conflicting views of animals with reputations as "man-eaters". Disdaining accusations of "sexist" or other cultural labels surrounding his terms, Quamman confronts us with the realities of human-predator interactions. Lions, which once roamed from Atlantic Europe to Eastern Asia, have been pushed into meagre enclaves outside of Africa. They, along with the crocodiles, bears and Amur tigers are surrounded by human neighbours. Quammen explains that the long-term human residents, the Mahldari in India, Aborigines of Australia, the Romanian shepherds and Ugede of Eastern Russia have formed accomodating
relationships with their proximate predator populations. The oft-repeated phrase is "don't bother them and they won't bother you".
Changes in political and economic forces, Quammen contends, bring changes to those relationships.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is amazing. As in it's predecessor, The Song of the Dodo, David Quammen acheives an amazing feat by combining science, travel stories, literature, history, and philosophy (and a sprinkling of pop culture) into a compelling discussion of the fate of what he calls "alpha predators" in this modern world. Quammen traveled to India to visit people living among lions (yes, lions), Australia to visit people living among crocodiles, Romania to visit people living with brown bears (who knew?), and the Russian Far East to visit people living with tigers. Each of these pieces is a distinct story by itself, with its own set of characters, yet Quammen sews them all together with common concerns about predators, prey, and who pays the price of having these alpha predators around. Sensitive to traditional cultures as he is to natural ecosystems, Quammen is a great writer producing unique literature that is important for our time.
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Format: Hardcover
I've read most of Quammen's books, and I strongly recommend reading "Song of the Dodo" before this one. That is Quammen's best, and one of the greatest popular science books ever written, a thrilling, enlightening classic. This one is just ok.

This one has potential: exploring the habitats of "man-eating" predators, the mythology surrounding them, their place in human psychology, the struggle to preserve them and the questions in that struggle. It could be a fascinating book, and it is pretty darn good.

Quammen looks at the Asiatic Lion, which plays a prominent role in the Bible and the rest of ancient European and Near-Eastern culture. But today it only remains in a small and shrinking forest in western India. Quammen goes there and reports on the lifestyles of the people who live in and around that forest, and the chances for the lion's survival.

Then he moves to the saltwater crocodile, especially in Australia. Here he does a good job exploring the economic significance of the crocodile and the leather industry, and also on the relations of various aboriginal groups to the crocodile. He does not tell us much about the Australian government's role in conservation, although that must be signficant as well.

Next he turns to the grizzlies of Romania, called brown bears everywhere outside of North America. He gives a decent history of their popularity in Yellowstone and Glacier parks, and a great coverage of their place in Romanian forest management, sport hunting, and shepherding. Of course Ceaucescu forms the constant background to the story of the bears in Romania.

Finally he goes to the Russian Far East, around Vladivostok, to learn about the situation of the Siberian Tiger. (Not the white-tiger mutants in zoos.
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