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

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

4.8 4
by David Quammen

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"Rich detail and vivid anecdotes of adventure....A treasure trove of exotic fact and hard thinking."—The New York Times Book Review, front page

For millennia, lions, tigers, and their man-eating kin have kept our dark, scary forests dark and scary, and their predatory majesty has been the stuff of folklore. But by the year 2150 big predators may


"Rich detail and vivid anecdotes of adventure....A treasure trove of exotic fact and hard thinking."—The New York Times Book Review, front page

For millennia, lions, tigers, and their man-eating kin have kept our dark, scary forests dark and scary, and their predatory majesty has been the stuff of folklore. But by the year 2150 big predators may only exist on the other side of glass barriers and chain-link fences. Their gradual disappearance is changing the very nature of our existence. We no longer occupy an intermediate position on the food chain; instead we survey it invulnerably from above—so far above that we are in danger of forgetting that we even belong to an ecosystem.

Casting his expert eye over the rapidly diminishing areas of wilderness where predators still reign, the award-winning author of The Song of the Dodo examines the fate of lions in India's Gir forest, of saltwater crocodiles in northern Australia, of brown bears in the mountains of Romania, and of Siberian tigers in the Russian Far East. In the poignant and troublesome ferocity of these embattled creatures, we recognize something primeval deep within us, something in danger of vanishing forever.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
A lesser writer might have turned this book into a shrill polemic, yet another tirade against modernity and extinction (subjects the scholarly Quammen tackled in his previous effort, Song of the Dodo). But he proves to be a fine reporter: insatiably curious, level-headed and amazingly erudite, calling in air support from a vast array of sources, living and dead. (When he learns that Australian outlaw bikers revere the crocodile, for instance, he pays a visit to a taxidermist who specializes in the tricky business of preserving massive croc heads for Hell's Angels' dens.) In the end, for Quammen, it comes down to a question of numbers: With 11 billion humans crowding the planet, there just won't be room for lions or tigers or bears. The crocs may have a fighting chance, since they live mostly in water and not on land. — Bill Gifford
The New York Times
Mr. Quammen, who wrote a science column for Outside magazine for many years, is able to make highly complex biological and ecological dynamics readily accessible to lay readers, while at the same time regaling us with what initially sound like stream of consciousness musings on such disparate matters as the relationship between authoritarian governments and alpha predator populations; the existential terror of being attacked by a crocodile; the dentition of various sorts of carnivores; the contentious relationship between tigers and dogs; and the attitude colonizing powers tend to take toward native wildlife.

But as the book progresses, the reader begins to realize that such musings are less digressions for the sake of digression than illuminating asides that underscore the marvelous complexity of nature, its fragile system of checks and balances, and the domino-like effect that change and flux can have on its intricate machinery. — Michiku Kakutani

NY Times Sunday Book Review
"In wildness is the preservation of the world,'' Henry David Thoreau famously said, not knowing the half of it. David Quammen's splendid book Monster of God constitutes an expansion and gloss on Thoreau's prophetic contention, achieved through an artful, focused account of contemporary efforts to secure preservation, in the wild, of some of the most magnificently fearsome creatures on earth -- the large-bodied carnivores, man-eaters (lions, tigers, Carpathian brown bears, giant crocodiles), a group Quammen designates ''alpha predators.'' The stories he presents contain rich detail and vivid anecdotes of adventure, and they provide skillful capsulizations of the politics, economics, cultural history and ecological dynamics bearing on the fate of each of these cornered populations. — Norman Rush
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. (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Acclaimed natural history writer Quammen (The Song of the Dodo) documents the delicate relationship that has existed between Homo sapiens and those few animal species that have actively sought out and eaten humans. Like other creatures, these animals (e.g., big cats, bears, sharks, Komodo dragons, crocodiles, and giant snakes) have been woven into many of humankind's spiritual, mythological, and cultural systems. Starting with biblical times and proceeding into the future, the provocative text takes us on a journey through history that demonstrates how inextricably we are linked to the creatures whose environment we share. Humans have lost much by driving man-eaters to near-extinction where their only hope is life in zoos. By defeating these top-of-the-food-chain competitors, have we thereby defeated ourselves? Quammen would likely answer, "Yes." Rich with personal stories that clarify humanity's true place in the universe, this book will leave the reader eager for more. Fortunately, an extensive bibliography is included. This has all the makings of a science book of the year. Highly recommended.-Edell Schaefer, Brookfield P.L., WI Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A somber elegy for the last of the world’s "alpha predators." Big, fierce beasts have haunted the human mind since time’s beginning, writes natural historian Quammen (The Boilerplate Rhino, 2000, etc.), and the relationship between predatory mammals and their human prey "has played a crucial role in shaping the way we humans construe our place in the natural world." He’s surely on to something: given that the natural tendency of humans is to exterminate any predators that threaten them--indeed, some would argue that exterminating them is "basic to the enterprise of civilization"--then it makes sense that our species should have been so hell-bent for so long on reshaping and taming the environments where nasty critters hang out. In a narrative that is better controlled and less footnote-heavy than The Song of the Dodo (1996), Quammen travels to tropical places, wild and on the verge of being tamed, to observe alpha predators in action. He delivers wonderfully wrought, undeniably scary tales of 13-foot-long Nile crocodiles in whose bellies reside the pulped remains of unfortunate Turkana villagers, people who consider their hunter "the punishing agent of a capricious God who was by turns benevolent and vindictive--like the Lord in the book of Job, only worse"; of Siberian tigers whose kind once stalked the inhabitants of the taiga, but that have since been hunted nearly to extinction, ever more rapidly since the end of the Soviet Union and the arrival of a particularly rapacious form of capitalism; of embattled Indian lions and their more adaptable fellow jungle denizens, leopards, far more adaptable to "degraded habitats, forest edges, and agricultural intrusions into wild landscapes."Scary, yes, but for Quammen the real fright is in a future in which a world of ten billion humans can find no room for such keystone species--a world that he fears is approaching all too close. Another good and provocative work from Quammen, sure to engage past admirers and earn new ones.
“Quammen's ability to turn science into high drama is unmatched.”
Washington Post Book World
“He sees both sides of the equation, which environmentalists still tend to frame in terms of good animals versus evil people....Insatiably curious, level-headed and amazingly erudite.”
T. Coraghessan Boyle
“Erudite, witty, and utterly fascinating...sets a new standard in nature writing.”
T. C. Boyle
“Erudite, witty, and utterly fascinating...sets a new standard in nature writing.”
Library Journal - BookSmack!
In this sharply written book, Quammen investigates our realization that there is something in the wild that can, and just may, eat us alive. Blending science and legend, he explores the Siberian tiger as well as Indian lions, Australian crocodiles, and Romanian bears. Like Vaillant, he takes a multistrand approach, considering the ecology, conservation, politics, and landscape surrounding each animal he explores. What Quammen finds, as did Vaillant, is that the animals we fear face a heartbreaking fate at our hands. Fans of The Tiger should find Quammen's stories of other predators (as well as more on the tiger) a good next read. . Neal Wyatt, "RA Crossroads," Booksmack! 10/7/10

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Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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What People are Saying About This

T. Coraghessan Boyle
Erudite, witty, and utterly fascinating...sets a new standard in nature writing.

Meet the Author

David Quammen is the author of The Song of the Dodo, among other books. He has been honored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters and is the recipient of a John Burroughs Medal and the National Magazine Award. He lives in Bozeman, Montana.

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Monster of God: The Man-Eating Predator in the Jungles of History and the Mind 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
MatthewKarns17815 More than 1 year ago
This book is part natural history, part cultural history. part travelogue, but all of it is very well written and endlessly fascinating.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Highly recommend for anyone, but especially those interested in nature and wildlife. Well-researched and good story telling.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago