Monster of God: The Man-eating Predator in the Jungles of History and the Mind

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9780091799571: Monster of God: The Man-eating Predator in the Jungles of History and the Mind

Great and terrible flesh-eating beasts have always shared the landscape with humans. Now, of course, as humans spread and despoil the planet, predators may only survive on the glass barriers and chain-link fences. David Quammen is no armchair evolutionary theorist, and, in "The Song of Dodo", everything he writes about he has experienced first-hand. In this book, he examines the fate of lions in India's Gir forest, salt water crocodiles in northern Australia, brown bears in the mountains of Romania and Siberian tigers. He is equally intrigued by the traditional relationship between the great predators and the people who live among them, and weaves into his story the fears and myths that have haunted humankind for millennia.

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Review:

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

About the Author:

David Quammen is a recipient of the Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the author of five acclaimed natural history titles. His book, The Song of the Dodo, won the BP Natural World Book Prize in 1996. He lives in Montana.

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