Top positive review
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Interesting, not Meticulously Fact Checked
on April 26, 2013
This is a highly readable history of the bear in European culture. The author puts forth an interesting thesis about the prominence of the bear in prehistoric and early historic/pre-Christian times, when the bear was an object of respect, of realistic fear, and sometimes of veneration. He proceeds to show how attitudes towards the bear changed, with the implication that this was -- consciously or unconsciously -- orchestrated by the Christian church, for whom the bear's pagan associations were threatening.
Most of this material was new to me, and I did not delve into the sources listed. Thus for the most part I do not know how accurate it is. A couple of statements, however, I am pretty sure are incorrect. In discussing the Norse gods, the book says "the war god Thor was early on given as surname the common name for bear in Old Norse: bjorn (Thorbjorn)...." Nowhere in my fairly extensive reading of Norse mythology and Scandinavian sagas have I seen the god Thor called Thorbjorn; Thorbjorn is man's name that incorporates the god's name. In discussing Beowulf, the hero of the Old English poem of that name, the book rightly points out that the name Beowulf (bee wolf) suggests a bear. However, when it states that "Beowulf is a bear, or rather the son of a bear and a woman" it goes beyond the text or any scholarship that I am aware of. These dubious statements are used to support the arguments of the book, which leads me to wonder if many more points might be misstated or exaggerated.
The book is interesting, and -- taken with a grain of salt as to details and bias -- the main premise is believable. it is for the most part anecdotal, and includes a number of engaging stories from history and folklore.