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Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America
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Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America

4.05 of 5 stars 4.05  ·  rating details  ·  967 ratings  ·  139 reviews
Journalist Jon Mooallem has watched his little daughter’s world overflow with animals butterfly pajamas, appliquéd owls—while the actual world she’s inheriting slides into a great storm of extinction. Half of all species could disappear by the end of the century, and scientists now concede that most of America’s endangered animals will survive only if conservationists keep ...more
Hardcover, 339 pages
Published May 16th 2013 by The Penguin Press (first published January 1st 2013)
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I have loved Jon Mooallem's work whenever I came across it in the New York Times Magazine, so I went into this book expecting to like it, but instead I was blown away.

He takes a simple premise - what does animal conservation mean and why do we do it? - and turns it into a profound look at humankind's place in the natural world, what we do to try to "save" threatened, endangered, and nearly extinct species, and why bother?

In addition to being rich with insight and engagingly written, it's clear
Biblio Files
Wild Ones takes a close-up look at the effort to save three wild species that are on the verge of extinction -- the polar bear, a Bay Area butterfly, and the whooping crane. Jon Mooallem travels to polar Canada and along the whooping crane migration path to find out how conservationists are keeping them from disappearing completely. He interviews dozens of scientists and volunteers. He does some research and tells interesting stories about early American conservationists.

However -- this is not a
I liked the premise of this work, unfortunately I did not much enjoy the execution. Had the author been a biologist I believe it would have been more successful, though being a biologist should not have been required for the topic. Unfortunately the author's tone leaned too often towards flippancy, especially towards species we share the planet with and conservation in general. This is why I think a biologist/conservationist would have been best as they would have had a broader view on ecosystem ...more
One of my favorite zoo memories is watching a giant panda, surrounded by a veritable paparazzi of viewers at the Washington DC zoo, stand up and scratch its ass on a log. The subtitle to Wild Ones is, "A sometimes dismaying, weirdly reassuring story about looking at people looking at animals in America." I figured it would be full of moments like this: animals reflecting our own humanity, or maybe our own animal nature, back at us.

Wild Ones turned out to be this and more. Mooallem is not satisfi
Alex Strick van Linschoten
One of the most enjoyable books I've read this year. Stories about conservation, humans and how we interact with all the other species on the planet.

The book is broadly structured in three parts, covering polar bears, butterflies (Lange's Metalmark) and the whooping crane. Mooallem looks at the ways in which people are involved in efforts to save these three species, often ending up telling us more about humans than the animals that are nominally his subject. He tells a hopeful tale, for the mos
Meh. This book was alright, and had some interesting examples of conservation, but it didn't bring any new ideas to the table. It's a good introduction to mass extinction and endangered species conservation if one isn't familiar with them, and I appreciated the historical references to early conservation efforts and lack thereof in the US. The author finds himself at a loss with how to deal with the emotions associated with mass extinction caused by humanity, and I would point him towards Joanna ...more
This book is thoughtful and well constructed. I found the research presented on endangered animals riveting, but so deeply depressing, that the book was not enjoyable at times. The subtitle implies that there is some sort or reassurance to the destruction we've caused but I couldn't see the upside at all. I think this is the kind of book everyone should have to read, despite its leaving me feeling quite hopeless about the world we live in and the countless animals we've destroyed.
Tim G
Disappointing, even deceptive. Mooallem is a capable writer and an even better reporter, but this book reads like a collection of repurposed magazine stories. It explores the contradictions and futilities in our ideas about wildlife and wildlife conservation. One of its points--that we live in a such a man-altered world that's tough to even say what's wild anymore--has been made elsewhere, and better. Worse, Mooallem cherry picks his examples of addled conservation efforts. And, sure, the ones h ...more
How far should animal conservation efforts go? What if it's not a cute* polar bear, but an insect no bigger than your thumb? And what does conservation mean? What's the right amount of animals?

I took a lot of these questions for granted before, but this book raised them and took a few stabs at answering them. The "weirdly reassuring" part of the title was obviously added to keep this book from sounding like a total bring-down; I'm not sure I feel more reassured. And the parts with his daughter d
Jack Cheng
I'm giving one of my rare 5 star ratings to this book, which is generally an unabashed recommendation but there's a caveat below.

This is an excellent piece of narrative non-fiction wherein the author explores the relationship between humans and wild animals. While Mooallem focuses on polar bears, Lange's Metalmark butterflies and whooping cranes, the book veers around all over American history and around the continent. There are stories of presidents: Thos. Jefferson's obsession with moose (and
"Right when someone is learning to be human, we surround them with animals" (170)

"I've been picking apart the stories we tell about wildlife, hoping to find a firm conclusion, or even some new and useful vision for our shared future together. But I never came close. America rewrites those stories so erratically over time, and so impulsively, that few of them feel convincing in the end. Instead, I'm convinced by the stories that we use wild animals to tell about ourselves." (293)

Jeff Raymond
Imagine if Mary Roach and David Attenborough collaborated on a book about the conservation movement through the framework of three different endangered animals. That is basically what we get from Wild Ones, which is a love letter of sorts along with an overall short history of American animal conservation through the lens of the polar bear, the whooping crane, and an endangered butterfly.

The book is fascinating on a few levels, ranging from the history aspects to the sober, straightforward takes
so i've read the first third. the bear part. while i have enjoyed it. it's informative, well constructed ... all those analytically qualifiers critics use ..... it hasn't lived up to the tag line. and to be honest, the tag line is what hooked me. so i'd say at one-third in, i am a little disappointed, but not so much so as to quit. i will gladly read on.

so now i have read the second segment ... the butterfly part. still don't really feel the tag line is a accurate representation of the book. i
This book does a really great job of illustrating the difficult and yes, dismaying realities of conservation in the US. Shedding light on the government bureaucracy and disbelief in climate change that has conservation relegated to mere land management and captive breeding. The author interviews were eye opening, outlining why many scientist give up and run for the hills, literally.
David Quinn
Don’t be put off by the cover art or the odd subtitle, this is a terrific book. Mooallem and his editor(s) have created a fascinating, thought-provoking, funny (in an understated, subtle way), sometimes offbeat and always endearing book that is far, far more than conservation efforts relating to the polar bear, butterfly and whooping crane. Mooallem brings you their stories and then turns them upside down to make you see the issues in a different light.

I particularly liked the smooth flow of his
Interesting! While it doesn't offer anything in the way of a solution to the problems presented, it certainly makes you re-examine your relationship to animals and beliefs on conservation.
Twenty something years ago, I sat in an environmental policy seminar as an undergrad and reflected on a question the professor asked: if the last remaining member of an endangered species was crossing the road, would you swerve to avoid it and die yourself in the process, or would you run it over? This book sets out, in a way, to answer that question and in the process became the most thought provoking book about people and nature I have read in a long time. Using the polar bear, Lange's metalma ...more
Best book I've read this year. Mooallem's beautifully written book exams how our attitudes shape our interactions with the natural world and influence what we choose (or don't choose) to 'preserve'. It's easy to say everything is interconnected but it's much more difficult to show it in a way that effectively highlights both the gains and losses incurred by any one decision humans. By featuring four different endangered species, Mooallem shows that trends - how a particular animal is pictured in ...more
Joshua Elliott
I first heard about this book from the podcast by Roman Mars called 99% invisible. I found the story about the first teddy bear and Thomas Jefferson's America to be interesting. Then I borrowed the book from the library to read and was not disappointed. While a book about conservation, the perspective is on those participating in conservation efforts rather than the species themselves. There is a good amount of detail about the Whooping crane, Polar bear, and Lange's metalmark butterfly, but th ...more
Galen Johnson
I'm an ecologist and do some peripheral work with an endangered species, so I'm likely not the target audience of this book. I enjoyed the stories about the different conservationists and their projects, and I thought Mooallem's analysis was often quite good. The explanations of ecological concepts were well done. The language was both fluid and sharp-- easy to read, but precise. On the other hand, I thought the book could have been structured more solidly, both as a whole and within sections an ...more
David Wen
Sometimes you have to take a step back to realize what's really happening. Working in the renewable industry you see all the mitigation and efforts taken to reduce the impact to threatened species. However, at some point you have to realize how meaningless this is. Why are we holding on to a status quo when everything is changing. Is it really worth it? The book is amusing yet sad in describing the efforts we have taken to save these animals. How regular folks with no significant background in c ...more
Anica Wong
A look into what we already know: species are close to being gone forever. I really enjoyed the first section about the polar bears because they are so well known and loved (Coca Cola ads, anyone?) but have such a weird relationship with those who actually live near their habitat areas.

I'm not sure if I learned anything new from this book, but I liked the way that the author brought us back to a child-like excitement about animals and how we interact with them isn't always as straight-forward a
Karen Snyder
When the weather outside is frightful, curl up with a cup of tea, a good book and a kitty on the other side of you :) This is exactly how I like to start my day. The narrative about polar bears, especially for a small Canadian town is frightening, then moving onto learning about butterflies and then whooping cranes. All while exploring the realms of the Endangered Species act with his daughter. It's not a cute and cuddly picture though, it examines the reality we face. An interesting tale that w ...more
There are so many things I like about this book. I first heard about it through a radio show called 99% Invisible, which covered an excerpt from the book about the history of the teddy bear. It was so fascinating and well-done that I decided to check out the rest of the book, and I'm really glad that I did.

I happen to work in environmental conservation, and I feel that Mooallem does an excellent job of capturing the motivations, passion, and flaws of the humans who work in this field. (For examp
"But nature doesn't know what outcome we want, and it doesn't care. Instead, it perpetually absorbs what we do or don't do to it, and disinterestedly spits out the effects of those causes. Nature is not a photograph that will always look good if we keep our fingerprints off it. It's a calculator, adding up numbers we don't always realize we're pressing and confronting us with the sum."

"I picked up on a certain longing for closeness and collaboration with animals -- for mutual understanding -- a
Craig Pittman
From polar bear tourists crossing an item off their bucket list in Alaska to craniacs gathered to watch whooping cranes following a costumed human pilot to a landing in Florida, Jon Mooallem ranges across the country and across several species to tell the story of how we relate to nature in an increasingly developed land. The story he tells is by turns amusing and disturbing, sometimes both at once.

“From the very beginning, America’s wild animals have inhabited the terrain of our imagination jus
This is a wonderful, engaging, heartbreaking, frustrating, sometimes-uplifting, etc. book. Mooallem sets out to track the conservation efforts directed at three endangered species - the polar bear, the lange metalmark butterfly, and the whooping crane. He spends a good chunk of time in the habitats of these species, chatting and working with the uniquely impassioned, quirky and, oftentimes, disillusioned folk who send their time fighting to save the lives of these animals. However, this is not e ...more
Our relationships with animals and nature are complex. While as a species we're responsible for great destruction of our wild habitats and creatures -- and for much waste and suffering among domesticated animals -- there are many examples of humans going way out of their way to save single individuals or species from extinction. One day you may read about rhinos or elephants being killed for their horns and ivory, and the next you read about people taking great pains to reintroduce a small group ...more
Wild Ones is one of the best non-fiction books I've read this year. I know it's only April, but I have a feeling that this book will still be a top contender at the end of the year. Jon Mooallem takes a look at the connections (or disconnections as the case may be) between the anthropomorphic animals that populate his four year-old daughter's world and the animals in the real world. He writes about three species that are at different points along the endangered species arc – polar bears, Lange's ...more
The title is a little misleading. We’re not only “looking at people looking at animals”, we are looking at the state of conservation in North America, past, present and even the future. While observing his daughter, the author noticed how young children are drawn to wild animals. Their presence is everywhere, yet as adults we act indifferent and often tolerate their destruction.

The author focuses on three endangered species to illustrate his research on conservation: The Polar Bear (Churchill, M
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Jon Mooallem is the author of WILD ONES: A Sometimes Dismaying Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America, and AMERICAN HIPPOPOTAMUS, which was recently optioned by Brett Ratner and Edward Norton. He recently toured with the folk band Black Prairie, doing a show of live-orchestrated stories from WILD ONES. (You can hear it here.)

He has been a Contributing Writer
More about Jon Mooallem...
American Hippopotamus Radio Silence

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“Zoom out and what you see is one species--us--struggling to keep all others in their appropriate places, or at least in the places we've decided they ought to stay. In some areas, we want cows but not bison, or mule deer but not coyotes, or cars but not elk. Or sheep but not elk. Or bighorn sheep but not aoudad sheep. Or else we'd like wolves and cows in the *same* place. Or natural gas tankers swimming harmoniously with whales. We are everywhere in the wilderness with white gloves on, directing traffic.” 4 likes
“You're not what you were before," Jana told me, "but neither are you what you're going to be. The soup stage really sucks, but you just have to embrace being soup for a little while.” 2 likes
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