The Eye of the Mammoth: Selected Essays

Overview

In four decades of writing for magazines ranging from Texas Monthly to the Atlantic, American History, and Travel Holiday, Stephen Harrigan has established himself as one of America’s most thoughtful writers. In this career-spanning anthology, which gathers together essays from two previous books—A Natural State and Comanche Midnight—as well as previously uncollected work, readers finally have a comprehensive collection of Harrigan’s best nonfiction.

History—natural history, ...

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The Eye of the Mammoth: Selected Essays

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Overview

In four decades of writing for magazines ranging from Texas Monthly to the Atlantic, American History, and Travel Holiday, Stephen Harrigan has established himself as one of America’s most thoughtful writers. In this career-spanning anthology, which gathers together essays from two previous books—A Natural State and Comanche Midnight—as well as previously uncollected work, readers finally have a comprehensive collection of Harrigan’s best nonfiction.

History—natural history, human history, and personal history—and place are the cornerstones of The Eye of the Mammoth. But the specific history or place varies considerably from essay to essay. Harrigan’s career has taken him from the Alaska Highway to the Chihuahuan Desert, from the casinos of Monaco to his ancestors’ village in the Czech Republic. Texas is the subject of a number of essays, and a force in shaping others, as in “The Anger of Achilles,” in which a nineteenth-century painting moves the author despite his possessing a “Texan’s suspicion of serious culture.” Harrigan’s deceptively straightforward voice, however, belies an intense curiosity about things that, by his own admission, may be “unknowable.” Certainly, we are limited in what we can know about the inner life of George Washington, the last days of Davy Crockett, or the motives of a caged tiger, but Harrigan’s gift—a gift that has also made him an award-winning novelist—is to bring readers closer to such things, to make them less remote, just as a cave painting in the title essay eerily transmits the living stare of a long-extinct mammoth.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This collection spans Harrigan's 32-year career, and while the essays range in subject from sunrise in Houston to Cortes's massacre of the Aztecs, most are firmly planted in his native Texas. Harrigan is a masterful storyteller, cataloguing scenery and character beautifully, often with great humor. He takes us through a great deal of the natural world, trekking through the Chihuahuan Desert, Rocky Mountain National Park, Chaco Canyon, and the Waco Mammoth Site; even his urban stories spend a great deal of time close to the earth. These pieces convey a deep and rewarding connection with place. Reaching across the history of Texas, both natural and cultural, he creates a paradoxical effect—collapsing the sweeping distances of a vast and varied state while giving it's immense particularly its due. No specialist, he relies on the input of a series of guides: in "On the Edge" we meet a zoologist poet, while in "Comanche Midnight" it's the great-grandson of a Comanche leader. Harrigan gives each their due. Best of all, he has an uncanny knack for ending his essays in exactly the right place, more often than not carrying what would otherwise have been pleasant and serviceable to a stirring and unusually satisfying conclusion. (Apr.)
Booklist - Brett Beasley
These essays speak with the same acuity and matchless prose that won Harrigan national acclaim in his best-selling novels The Gates of the Alamo (2000) and Remember Ben Clayton (2011); readers of Harrigan’s fiction are sure to find this definitive collection of his nonfiction no less arresting.
The Austin American-Statesman - Charles Ealy
Harrigan has written beautifully about the various natural wonders of the state…Through it all, Harrigan writes with ease, with a straightforward, friendly thoughtfulness that lures you in and makes you wonder how someone can be so nice, so modest, so self-deprecating at times, when it’s obvious that writing as concisely and clearly as he does is quite difficult.
Booklist
These essays speak with the same acuity and matchless prose that won Harrigan national acclaim in his best-selling novels The Gates of the Alamo (2000) and Remember Ben Clayton (2011); readers of Harrigan’s fiction are sure to find this definitive collection of his nonfiction no less arresting.
Kirkus Reviews
A Sooner-born, Longhorn-raised writer offers a rich selection of pieces originally published in Texas Monthly and elsewhere. A veteran screenwriter and novelist (The Gates of the Alamo, 2000, etc.), Harrigan displays in abundance the trait all great essayists possess: curiosity. Not to mention an enviable travel budget. The peripatetic writer is everywhere: Big Bend National Park, a Mexican desert, Padre Island, the Houston Zoo, Galveston Bay, Rocky Mountain and Mesa Verde national parks, and Monte Carlo, among others. He assembles natural history, some quirky characters and details (on Padre Island he spotted a decapitated turtle), and some personal history (we gradually learn about his boyhood, youth, college years and more), and he displays throughout an appealingly self-deprecating voice. The early sections deal principally with his travels--including the bizarre story of a tiger's killing a zoo employee--and later sections focus on history. He offers a grim piece about Cortés in Mexico (read this one on an empty stomach) and a good summary about the Stone Age man found in that alpine glacier in 1991. He enlightens us about the Comanche, who survive but have no reservation, and visits the ruins of Jack London's Wolf House. He also dives into the whirlpool of controversy about the death of Davy Crockett, enlightens us about the filming of Lonesome Dove and notes a family connection to outlaw Frank James. The final pieces are reflective ones about Texas, homesickness and his screenwriting career. Like sitting next to a loquacious, genial and informative passenger on a slow trans-Texas train.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Stephen Harrigan
Stephen Harrigan is the author of nine books of fiction and nonfiction, among them the critically acclaimed and best-selling novel The Gates of the Alamo, and two previous collections of essays, A Natural State and Comanche Midnight. His most recent novel, Remember Ben Clayton, won the Jesse H. Jones award for the best work of fiction from the Texas Institute of Letters and the Spur Award from the Western Writers of America. He is a longtime writer for Texas Monthly and has contributed articles and essays to a wide variety of other magazines. Harrigan is also an award-winning screenwriter who has written many movies for television.
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Table of Contents

Foreword by Nicholas Lemann

Part One: Music in the Desert
Morning Light
On the Edge
The Secret Life of the Beach
Going into the Desert
Isla del Padre
"The Tiger Is God"
The Bay
Swamp Thing

Part Two: Highways and Jungle Paths
The Roof of Eden
Feeling Flush
The Anger of Achilles
Rock and Sky
The Little Man's Road
My Igloo
A Secret Door

Part Three: The Shadow of History
The Temple of Destiny
The Man Nobody Knows
Comanche Midnight
Wolf House
The Last Days of David Crockett
Taking Care of Lonesome Dove
His Fostering Hand
The Eye of the Mammoth
A Troublous Life

Part Four: Where Is My Home?
What Texas Means to Me
The Soul of Treaty Oak
Wish I Were There
The Eyesore
The Golden Age of Austin
Texanic!
Fade In, Fade Out
Where Is My Home?

Acknowledgments

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