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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

4.04  ·  Rating Details ·  1,765 Ratings  ·  199 Reviews
A New York Times Notable Book of 2013

"Ambitious and fascinating... [Mooallem] seamlessly blends reportage from the front lines of wildlife conservation with a lively cultural history of animals in America... This is not a book about wilderness; it’s a book about us." --New York Times Book Review

Journalist Jon Mooallem has watched his little daughter’s world overflow with
Hardcover, 339 pages
Published May 16th 2013 by The Penguin Press (first published January 1st 2013)
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Jul 31, 2013 Matt rated it it was amazing
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
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
Biblio Files
Apr 27, 2013 Biblio Files rated it really liked it
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
Jul 28, 2014 Jamie rated it liked it
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
Mar 17, 2017 Alice rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017-books
Here's how I became smitten with Jon Mooallem and Wild Ones, and you can too:

1. Listen to a recording of him telling stories from the book with musical accompaniment by Black Prairie on the podcast 99 Percent Invisible. ( Then over-share it with friends.

2. Read his fascinating article about Neanderthals in the NY Times magazine, which also includes a paradigmatic example of mansplaining, and fall in love with his writing style. (
Kate McCarthy
Jun 16, 2017 Kate McCarthy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book turned out to be much more fun than anticipated. The entertainment and delight it evokes are lovely feelings to have when discussing the irreversible and catastrophic human toll on the wild planet. Through wildly human true tales, the author examines human conservation efforts with bears, butterflies, and birds. The carnival of marvels here distracts you from the sad truth, somehow in a fun way.
Dov Zeller
Jan 09, 2017 Dov Zeller rated it liked it
This is not a bad book, but, in the end, I'm not sure it adds up to a productive meditation. A bit like the not-quite-wild cranes it follows, it seems lost within a contextual puzzle it can't quite get free of. In the end, I feel like I'm listening to a self-indulgent teenager who's over-dosed on Sartre and sugar-cereal. There are fantastically interesting moments. Mooallem's a good storyteller and follows ecologists and conservationists deep into their work... But by the end, I was pretty frust ...more
Jun 12, 2014 Alex rated it it was amazing
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
Kressel Housman
Mar 22, 2016 Kressel Housman rated it it was amazing
I love animals, and I know I’m not the only one. My oldest son is raising goats in our backyard, and every day, they attract visitors. I’ve watched it time and time again. Animals bring out the best in people: their joy, their kindness, and their sense of wonder.

This book is about how some conservationists have tapped into people’s love of animals and harnessed it not just to save endangered species but to preserve the much less adorable ecosystems in which they thrive. A clear and recent examp
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
Tim G
Aug 04, 2013 Tim G rated it it was ok
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
Jun 28, 2013 Sarah rated it really liked it
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
Mar 03, 2014 Alix rated it really liked it
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.
Jun 29, 2013 Kate rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
"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)

Chelsea Smith
Jun 02, 2016 Chelsea Smith rated it liked it
If Micheal Pollan wrote a book on conservation, wild life and climate change; it would read similar to this book. Though the author 'experienced' 3 separate varied states of species extinction, he misses a large part of human animal interaction but omitting the domestication of animals (dogs, cats) and our occupation with pets. Good for a beach or travel read. I learned some new factoids, but overall I finished feeling ambivalent/neutral about our current state of wild life preservation.
Dec 19, 2013 Amanda rated it really liked it
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.
Dec 02, 2013 Ellen rated it it was amazing
even though this book left me a bit more dismayed than reassured, it's a very accurate depiction of historic and contemporary conservation efforts. i highly recommend this to parents of young children and those of us who hope (with no reason) that we can save what's left.
Nov 04, 2014 Twotontheis rated it really liked it
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.
Edward Sullivan
Lively, interesting cultural history of conservation.
Jun 18, 2017 Cathy rated it really liked it
Focusing on three at risk species, the author takes the reader on a journey across North America from Churchill, Manitoba to California to Florida. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip, enhanced all the more by having seen two of the three endangered animals in the wild myself.

I confess to being one of those tourists - the ones who went to see polar bears in their natural habitat before they disappear. It was an experience I'll never forget. I was lucky enough to go to Churchill in summer, so didn't h
Dan Church
Jun 27, 2017 Dan Church rated it it was amazing
"What should a population of wild whooping cranes look like in twenty-first century America? It would be easy to say that a wild animal is one that lives outside human influence and beyond human contact-an animal that doesn't notice us or give a damn. But in that case true wilderness would be almost impossible, with human influence now bleeding into virtually all the available space... ultimately, wildness is a matter of individual opinion, and not even the experts agree."

This was a fantastic bo
Jan 24, 2017 Chepper rated it liked it
There were some very interesting stories about how people throughout history interacted with animals and thought about them in this book. Unfortunately those were outnumbered by the repetitive and preachy parts of the book.
Jul 09, 2017 Paul rated it it was amazing
Read this! Very interesting book that dives into the history of wildlife conservation in the US and asks questions about how much human involvement should there be and is it a lost cause.
Kate Jacobson
Mar 24, 2017 Kate Jacobson rated it it was amazing
Jon Mooallem is a heartbreakingly good writer, and this book permanently changed the way I think about conservation, ecology, wilderness and the relationship between people and animals. An easy five stars.
Oct 01, 2013 Meesh rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Our vision of wildness may be impossibly nostalgic, an almost religious fantasy of purity in what’s remote, in what’s beyond us— not unlike the gentle deities that Joan McIntyre saw in whales. It may be unfair to expect actual whooping cranes in the twenty-first century to behave in the way we imagined whooping cranes did in the sixteenth century. In a world full of Costco regional distribution centers and Krispy Kreme drive-thrus, we are asking them to block it all out, to see the Walmart reten ...more
Mar 21, 2017 Connor rated it really liked it
Mooallem blends sharp-eyed reporting, nicely animated research, and deftly-woven storytelling to make this book a deeply-felt, wildly informative page-turner.
"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
Jun 23, 2014 Craig Pittman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Travis Webber
Mar 04, 2017 Travis Webber rated it it was amazing
Not in the slightest way "reassuring", weirdly or otherwise. But still an excellent and deeply engaged piece of nonfiction.
Oct 16, 2013 Krys rated it really liked it
Shelves: all-time-favs
I first heard about Wild Ones through Roman Mars’s podcast 99% Invisible, where an audio of the “Billy Possum” chapter was read for an audience. In that moment, I knew I would love this book.

Broken into three main sections—one about the polar bear, one about the Lange’s metalmark butterfly, and one about the whooping crane—the book both amply and ably covers the whole gamut of perspectives regarding conservation, climate change, and the symbolism of wildlife in America. This is a painfully hones
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2017 Reading Chal...: Cranes and Butterflies and Bears 1 13 Apr 24, 2015 07:46AM  
  • Settled in the Wild: Notes from the Edge of Town
  • The Rarest of the Rare: Vanishing Animals, Timeless Worlds
  • The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild
  • The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light
  • Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis
  • The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary
  • Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms: The Story of the Animals and Plants That Time Has Left Behind
  • Red-tails in love : Pale Male's story--a true wildlife drama in Central Park
  • This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland
  • Out of Eden: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion
  • Monster of God: The Man-Eating Predator in the Jungles of History and the Mind
  • The Animal Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild
  • The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human
  • Weird Life: The Search for Life That Is Very, Very Different from Our Own
  • Ecology Without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics
  • 100 Heartbeats: A Journey to Meet Our Planet's Endangered Animals and the Heroes Working to Save Them
  • Eels: An Exploration, from New Zealand to the Sargasso, of the World's Most Mysterious Fish
  • The Company of Wolves
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...

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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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