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

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  2,333 ratings  ·  260 reviews
A New York Times Notable Book of 2013

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 w
Hardcover, 339 pages
Published May 16th 2013 by The Penguin Press
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Jul 31, 2013 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
Jun 12, 2014 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
Mar 17, 2017 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. (
Jul 28, 2014 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
Feb 05, 2019 rated it it was ok
This book could have been much more detailed and interesting. The premise is a good one. The execution failed. If you decide to read this one, do yourself a favor and skip the whale chapter. Blech.
Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
Apr 27, 2013 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
May 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I very much love this book. I used it in a class this year - and my students found it accessible. I found it the perfect launching pad to talk about the Anthropocene.
Aug 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed Mooallem's essay on the hippo plan, so I thought I would check out his book. The topic is something I'm quite interested in, of course, at the intersection of how ideas of nature influence conservation and restoration practice and representations of nature in popular culture. I find it slightly unfortunate (though not surprising in retrospect) that this is more longform journalism than educational nonfiction, though he's pretty good at it and that isn't the worst thing in the wo ...more
Tim G
Aug 04, 2013 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
May 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
fascinating! mooallem examines humans' relationship to animals, especially wild & endangered species, and focuses on the efforts to save a bear, a butterfly, and a bird (specifically: polar bears, the lange's metalmark butterfly, & whooping cranes). the three animals fall along a spectrum of conservation reliance, with the continued existence of polar bears the least reliant on humans and whooping cranes the most (though all existence is contingent upon climate change, so humans still have a lot ...more
Aug 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
This took me a while to read. It could be a bit dry at times, but I thought his approach to conservation was interesting... the notion that we are fascinated by animals and esteem them while at the same time unknowingly (sometimes knowingly) destroy their chance of survival. The concept of a Shifting Baseline Syndrome (each generation meets an environment that is diminished from the generation before them, and knows that as their baseline) is very sad to me. It makes me wish, if only in my dream ...more
Aug 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, nature
I really enjoyed this author's book, This Is Chance, so I thought I would give this a try and it is definitely worth reading.
The book just what the subtitle says, a "story about looking at people looking at animals..." The author focuses on three endangered species and explores various viewpoints related to our efforts to save them. His writing is unbiased; he presents information and leaves it up to the reader to ponder the complex issues related to conservation. It has certainly opened my eye
Kate McCarthy
Jun 16, 2017 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 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 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Mooallem does a very good job covering the difficult questions that many of us who are involved in or care about conservation tend to ask ourselves. He doesn't try to offer up any pretty answers, which I felt was appropriate because there really are no easy or nice answers. If you care about conservation and want to learn some interesting history, this is a great book. It may leave you a little sad, but that is not the authors fault rather just a reflection of our changing planet and the many di ...more
Kressel Housman
Mar 22, 2016 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 Linschoten
Oct 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 28, 2013 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
Galen Johnson
May 02, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Jun 29, 2013 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)

Mar 03, 2014 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. ...more
Jun 02, 2016 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. ...more
Dec 19, 2013 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 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. ...more
Edward Sullivan
Lively, interesting cultural history of conservation.
Nov 04, 2014 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. ...more
Jun 18, 2017 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
May 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 01, 2018 rated it liked it
The concept of this book seemed really appealing to me...but I should have paid more attention to the words “sometimes dismaying” in the subtitle. Presenting historical, philosophical, and practical aspects of conservation (focusing on the polar bear, the Lange metalmark butterfly, and the whooping crane), Mooallen’s writing is clearly well-researched...but maybe *often* dismaying, rather than sometimes. Although there were many interesting conservationists profiled, perhaps the only one that re ...more
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Green Group: Wild Ones, by Jon Mooallem 12 10 Sep 21, 2020 03:08AM  
2017 Reading Chal...: Cranes and Butterflies and Bears 1 14 Apr 24, 2015 07:46AM  

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Jon Mooallem is a longtime writer at large for The New York Times Magazine and a contributor to numerous radio shows and other magazines, including This American Life and Wired. He has spoken at TED and collaborated with members of the Decemberists on musical storytelling projects.

His latest book, THIS IS CHANCE!, about the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964 and radio reporter Genie Chance, will be p

News & Interviews

  If you listen to NPR regularly, you’ve likely heard the voice of Shankar Vedantam, the longtime science correspondent and host of the radio...
15 likes · 2 comments
“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.” 5 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.” 3 likes
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