A case of mistaken identity — or, rather fanciful wishing on the part of Professor Howard Merriam and the use of initials on the part of Alexandria Ba...moreA case of mistaken identity — or, rather fanciful wishing on the part of Professor Howard Merriam and the use of initials on the part of Alexandria Bartram — allows a young woman who dreams of becoming accomplished in the field of botany to join a field study in Yellowstone National Park during the summer of 1989. Displeased that find a woman on their team, Professor Merriam and the rest of his hodgepodge team of scientists attempt to persuade her to return home, but Alex is determined to stay and explore the yet undocumented wonders of the Nation’s Park before the visitors — including a foreign count who calls hunting “science” — had a chance to destroy its beauty.
I once took a class at the university where many of Smith’s characters hail; there’s no Hill Hall but there is a building dedicated to the study of botany so Professor Merriam got his wish. And, having spent several summers and winters exploring Yellowstone Park, it was fun to revisit the park and consider how the first national park has changed and yet remained the same in the last 116 years. Captain Craighead may be a fictional character but I am thankful there were members of the U.S. Calvary, people in government and academia, and common citizens who refused to allow the park to be siphoned off into a series of private enterprises or for the railroad to build an electric rail through the park to carry visitors in and gold or ore out. Alex’s experiences are not entirely unlike my own — the excitement of seeing a bison for the first time, the wonderment over the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, the hope you will see a bear in the wild — and it was wonderful to revisit those experiences in my mind as I read about Alex.
The title of Smith’s book led me to mistakenly believe it was a nonfictional book and while it quickly became clear that was not the case, the book does live up to its title in the format in which it is written. Rather than relying upon a more traditional narrative, Smith presents the story in a series of letters and telegrams sent to family and friends outside the park’s boundary allowing the reader to be privy to thoughts and feelings that might not have been readily presented in another format. The letters did not always convey the time period in which they were supposed to be written. Some of the thoughts appears to modern, although that may be because I often have the same thoughts whilst visiting Yellowstone. Even so, I enjoyed this deviation in narrative styles enough to hope Smith finishes the other novel she mentions in the interview at the end.(less)
Subtitled “The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune”, this book explores the mystery surrounding a home in C...moreSubtitled “The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune”, this book explores the mystery surrounding a home in Connecticut for sale that was sat unoccupied for nearly sixty years purchased by a reclusive heiress named Huguette Clark with her $300 million inheritance. This incredibly reclusive woman — no photograph of her had been seen publicly since the 1930s – owned a mansion in Santa Barbara in addition to the one in Connecticut and two apartments on Fifth Avenue in New York City, but spent twenty years in a hospital room despite her excellent health.
This book is crash-course into the underbelly of Montana politics as Clark is the daughter of William A. Clark, who owned a mine in Butte, bribed members of the Montana State Legislature in return for their votes to name him to the U.S. Senate, and was portrayed as the worst of men in the Gilded Age. Having read about Montana history and, particularly, about copper mining in Butte, this is the weakest aspect of the book. A list rather an explanation of why Clark’s inheritance was built of the back of Montana, although I appreciated the nod to both the hatred of Montanan’s to certain campaign financing rulings and the idea that the Clark’s were absentee landlords.
The real intrigue surrounding Clark’s inheritance is towards the end of the book and short enough that I don’t think an entire book was needed to explore her life. And given how reclusive Clark was, it seems evasive to read about her life in such detail. But, at the end of the book, the issue that matters the most — to her family, her caretakers, the writers and readers of this book — is her money, and the question is not so much how she spent her money but who should receive the remainder of that inheritance.
On the one hand, based on the interviews and examples provided in the text, it seems that Clark was a lucid woman capable of making her own decisions up until her death and her second will should be accepted as her final wishes. On the other hand, based on the interviews and examples provided in the text, it appears that doctors, lawyers, hospital CEOs, and her personal caregiver took advantage of her generosity. A $30 million payout, multiple homes across the boroughs of New York City, writing themselves as beneficiaries of the will they were hired to write screams of fraud, and I can understand why the state attorney would get involved.
Some of the beneficiaries surprised me; I’ve visited the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. but couldn’t recall any of the endowments mentioned in this book. But the worst offender, according to Dedman and Newell, is Beth Israel Hospital instructing their doctors and nurses to ask her for money, allowing them to accept gifts (conflict of interest, much?), and pressuring her to move locations despite her own wishes (her doctor said he wouldn’t treat her at another hospital in order to keep her at Beth Israel). The hospital received a payout in the settlement, which was decided after the book was published, but could be written out once more should Clark’s family and other beneficiaries of the settlement decide to recoup gifts, including a $3.5 million Manet painting, received during her life. Seems like a no-brainier given the case laid out in this book.(less)
Subtitled "The First Year", Ferguson's book follows the lives of the first wolves reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park from Alberta, Canada in 19...moreSubtitled "The First Year", Ferguson's book follows the lives of the first wolves reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park from Alberta, Canada in 1995. The process was a long time coming. A wolf recovery team was created in 1974 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but efforts to reintroduce the wolf were continually stagnated by the public, politicians, and state governments around Yellowstone.
Nearly twenty years later, the reintroduction of the wolf is still a hot button issue in Montana, right up there with the migration of bison out of the Park. Other places consider it better form to discuss religion, money, and politics at dinner. In Montana, discussing wolves and bison is a surefire way to offend your neighbor. Interestingly enough, though, this book came into my hands via my mother from a woman who is fairly anti-wolf. She told my mother that it made her realize wolves are more than mindless, livestock killers.
I think that's in large part to the way Ferguson writes this tale. He manages to blend just enough action and anticipation on the part of the wolf reintroduction team whilst still maintaining an approach that does not overly anthropomorphize the wolves to an odd degree. He rarely places emotions upon them, but rather tries to explain their actions in the context of what is known about wolves.
There is a lot of interaction between wolves and humans in the first year; much more than I anticipated. One point that stands out is the story of the recovery team traveling outside of the Park to Red Lodge, Montana in order to rescue eight pups and their mother after the death of the alpha male wolf. Yet the wolves really carry the story as this short book shows how new packs are formed, babies are born, and the wolves live and die. I couldn't help but root for them!(less)