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Mr. Hornaday's War: How a Peculiar Victorian Zookeeper Waged a Lonely Crusade for Wildlife That Changed the World


He was complex, quirky, pugnacious, and difficult. He seemed to create enemies wherever he went, even among his friends. A fireplug of a man who stood only five feet eight inches in his stocking feet, he began as a taxidermist and an adventurer who tracked tigers in Borneo with friendly headhunters, lead crocodile-hunting expeditions in the Orinoco, and scouted the last remaining bison in the Montana territories.
William Temple Hornaday ...

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Mr. Hornaday's War: How a Peculiar Victorian Zookeeper Waged a Lonely Crusade for Wildlife That Changed the World

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He was complex, quirky, pugnacious, and difficult. He seemed to create enemies wherever he went, even among his friends. A fireplug of a man who stood only five feet eight inches in his stocking feet, he began as a taxidermist and an adventurer who tracked tigers in Borneo with friendly headhunters, lead crocodile-hunting expeditions in the Orinoco, and scouted the last remaining bison in the Montana territories.
William Temple Hornaday (1854–1937) was also a man ahead of his time. He was the most influential conservationist of the nineteenth century, second only to his great friend and ally Theodore Roosevelt. When this one-time big-game collector witnessed the wanton destruction of wildlife prevalent in the Victorian era, he experienced an awakening and devoted the rest of his life to protecting our planet’s endangered species. Hornaday founded the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., served for thirty years as director of the renowned Bronx Zoo, and became a fierce defender of wild animals and wild places. He devoted fifty years to fighting gun manufacturers, poachers, scandalously lax game-protection laws, and the vast apathy of the American public. He waged the “Plume Wars” against the feathered-hat industry and is credited with having saved both the Alaskan fur seal and the American bison from outright extinction.
Mr. Hornaday’s War restores this major figure to his rightful place as one of the giants of the modern conservation movement. But Stefan Bechtel also explores the grinding contradictions of Hornaday’s life. Though he crusaded against the wholesale slaughter of wildlife, he was at one time a trophy hunter, and what happened in 1906 at the Bronx Zoo, when Hornaday displayed an African man in an “ethnographic exhibit,” shows a side of him that is as baffling as it is repellant. This gripping book takes an honest look at a fascinating, enigmatic man who both represented and transcended his era’s paradoxical approach to wildlife, and who profoundly changed the course of the conservation movement for generations to come.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Essential for anyone interested in U.S. conservation history and the wildlife protection movement ... A landmark biography.” —Douglas Brinkley, author of The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt’s Crusade for America
“Beautifully paced and brilliantly written.” —Laurence A. Marschall, Natural History
“Lively ... fascinating.” —Nature
“A fascinating book . . . We have W. T. Hornaday to thank for a nation richer with wildlife today as a result of his work a century ago. Stefan Bechtel has done a masterful job telling us the story of one of America’s forgotten heroes, from his field explorations to the establishment of the Bronx Zoo and his battles in Congress. This book must be read by anyone interested in history and the environment.”—Cristián Samper, director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History
“William Temple Hornaday is a name we’ve forgotten, and that’s almost a crime, as he was the first truly successful eco-activist. While nineteenth-century America was wiping out species after species virtually for the fun of it, Hornaday gave voice to the animals’ agony and dragged several back from the brink. Stefan Bechtel has vividly resurrected Hornaday—a hero for those who care for the fate of the earth.”—Robert L. O’Connell, author of The Ghosts of Cannae
“Stefan Bechtel tells William Hornaday’s story with zest and a great eye for detail. Mr. Hornaday’s War offers adventure, political maneuvering, a stellar cast of characters, and a nuanced portrait of the crusader who called himself ‘the most defiant devil that ever came to town.’”—Henry Wiencek, author of An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America

From the Hardcover edition.

Publishers Weekly
This brief, entertaining biography by Bechtel (a founding editor of Men’s Health and author of Tornado Hunter) traces William Hornaday’s (1854–1937) journey from big game hunter (he killed 43 orangutans in Borneo as a young man) to defender of wildlife, and his emergence as one of the 19th century’s most famous conservationists. Founder and first director of Washington, D.C.’s National Zoo, and first director of the Bronx Zoo, Hornaday’s life was riddled with paradox. For example, he is sometimes credited with singlehandedly saving the American buffalo. Once the most ubiquitous creature on the continent, the bison had been hunted to the brink of extinction, and in 1886, Hornaday had reason to believe that the “buffalo-hide hunters of the United States had practically finished their work.” In response, he organized his own buffalo hunt, with the goal of collecting specimens to taxidermy and display in the Smithsonian, “allowing people to see, up close, what he was asking them to save.” Though clearly fond of his subject, Bechtel does not gloss over Hornaday’s faults—such as the troubling incident in which Hornaday displayed a Congolese pygmy at the Bronx Zoo—and the resulting book offers a lively treatment of a singular life. Agent: Don Fehr, Trident Media Group. (May)
Kirkus Reviews
A biography of a man whose life was intertwined with the conservation movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Starting with William Temple Hornaday's (1854–1937) discovery that the American buffalo were being hunted to extinction, Men's Health founding editor Bechtel (Roar of the Heavens, 2007, etc.) tells the story of Hornaday's life and how he became the man who would bring the buffalo back to the prairies. Raised on a farm in Indiana, Hornaday was exposed to taxidermy early in his life and pursued a career in that field through his teen and college years. After landing a job in a museum, he decided, at age 19, to mount his first expedition to obtain exotic animals. Trips to Florida, South America, India and Borneo made Hornaday a minor celebrity adventurer and helped him land a job at the Smithsonian and eventually as the director of the Bronx Zoo. Bechtel focuses mainly on Hornaday's conservation work, using his childhood, taxidermy work and expeditions to show how he became interested in the movement. Many of the passages about conservation are repetitive, and Bechtel's tone varies as he clearly struggles with his admiration for Hornaday's efforts to preserve wildlife and his misgivings about the hunting of animals for display. While there is a short section on his work to save seals and a larger section on birds, the focus frequently returns to Hornaday's work with the buffalo. Bechtel's passion for his subject makes the book an interesting and enjoyable though occasionally preachy read. The book will appeal to readers curious about the beginning of wildlife conservation in America, but it won't provide much new information to serious Hornaday fans who have already read his own accounts of these exploits.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807006382
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 5/14/2013
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 237,383
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.70 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Stefan Bechtel is the author of ten books, his most recent including Tornado Hunter and Roar of the Heavens. A founding editor of Men’s Health magazine, his work has appeared in Esquire and the Washington Post, among other publications. He lives in Free Union, Virginia.

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Table of Contents

Note to reader William Temple Hornaday: a life in brief Prologue: the fear
Part One The Awakening
Chapter 1 His Name Was Dauntless Chapter 2 A Melancholy Insanity Chapter 3 The Second Civil War Chapter 4 Souvenir of a Lost World Chapter 5 The Last Buffalo Hunt Chapter 6 A Mysterious Stranger Chapter 7 “A Nobility Beyond All Compare”
Part Two The Heedless Hunter
Chapter 8 Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa Chapter 9 Yearning, Too Much, for Fame Chapter 10 The Empress Josephine Chapter 11 Man-Eaters of the Animallai Hills Chapter 12 Darwin’s Firestorm Chapter 13 “A Thief in the Night”
Chapter 14 A Dream Deferred Chapter 15 Scandal at the Zoo
Part Three Wildlife Warrior
Chapter 16 The Dark Shadow Chapter 17 Empire of the Buffalo Chapter 18 Our Vanishing Wildlife Chapter 19 Two Hundred Years of War
Epilogue: his indomitable persistence  

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