Over a continent and three centuries, American livestock owners destroyed wolves to protect the beasts that supplied them with food, clothing, mobility, and wealth. The brutality of the campaign soon exceeded wolves’ misdeeds. Wolves menaced property, not people, but storytellers often depicted the animals as ravenous threats to human safety. Subjects of nightmares and legends, wolves fell prey not only to Americans’ thirst for land and resources but also to their deeper anxieties about the untamed frontier.
Now Americans study and protect wolves and jail hunters who shoot them without authorization. Wolves have become the poster beasts of the great American wilderness, and the federal government has paid millions of dollars to reintroduce them to scenic habitats like Yellowstone National Park.
Why did Americans hate wolves for centuries? And, given the ferocity of this loathing, why are Americans now so protective of the animals? In this ambitious history of wolves in Americaand of the humans who have hated and then loved themJon Coleman investigates a fraught relationship between two species and uncovers striking similarities, deadly differences, and, all too frequently, tragic misunderstanding.
The many recent books written about wolves include several photographic essays depicting the wolf in its natural environment and studying the animal's habits and social characteristics. Coleman (history, Univ. of Notre Dame) takes a different approach in this volume, which began as his doctoral thesis. His study involves the history of wolves and humans in America, with a focus on the geographic area of Colonial New England. He chronicles the events, misunderstandings, and miscommunications that led early settlers to fear and destroy wolves before discussing America's shift in attitude. As a book about relationships, it includes references to the legends, folklore, and cultural differences that shaped the interaction between humans and wolves over three centuries. Coleman's witty and entertaining style will engage readers; it is well researched and documented, as one would expect in a scholarly work. Highly recommended for its literary quality and unique approach to academic and special collections. [For another cultural history about an American animal, see Mark Derr's A Dog's History of America, reviewed on p. 176.--Ed.]--Deborah Emerson, Rochester Regional Lib. Council, Fairport, NY Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.