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American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains

4.30  ·  Rating details ·  841 ratings  ·  92 reviews
America's Great Plains once possessed one of the grandest wildlife spectacles of the world, equaled only by such places as the Serengeti, the Masai Mara, or the veld of South Africa. Pronghorn antelope, gray wolves, bison, coyotes, wild horses, and grizzly bears: less than two hundred years ago these creatures existed in such abundance that John James Audubon was moved to ...more
Hardcover, 222 pages
Published April 12th 2016 by University Press of Kansas (first published March 29th 2016)
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Hugely depressing account of the Serengeti that used to be on our Great Plains, although that in no way detracts from the book's quality. It's well researched and the author does not shy from having a strong opinion, which is refreshing. Each chapter presents the case of a different animal from the Plains and I didn't even know some of them were (and sometimes are) there. The quotes from historical travelers add to the narrative an exciting, majestic quality in their awe at scenes of wildlife. I ...more
Jun 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-history
File under preaching to the choir.

Ideally, this book is meant for people who need convincing that the American great plains are a land of majestic beauty. I’m already onboard.

I’ve driven across the USA, coast-to-coast, four times. I always joke that there will never be a fifth time. I’d do it in a train, but I’m through with cars. I’ve never been to the Serengeti in Africa, but I’ve seen enormous herds of bison and antelope in the American west. Elk, deer, coyotes, prairie dogs, and all kinds of
Feb 18, 2021 rated it really liked it
I love Dan Flores' writing and I love my beautiful flyover state, Nebraska. I mourn for what it should be, and this brought into sharp relief everything that we lost relatively recently in terms of history. His books run a bit dry at times, but they're still dear to me. ...more
Richard Reese
Mar 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Once upon a time, the Great Plains of the western U.S. resembled the Serengeti of Africa, a vast prairie inhabited by abundant wildlife. Each year, during the wet season, grasslands produce far more new biomass than forests do, per unit of land. The greenery converts sunlight into carbohydrates, nutrients necessary for the existence of animal life in the ecosystem. Thus, the usually sunny plains are a vast array of solar collectors that generate food for the vast array of animal life. Bison meat ...more
Patrick Macke
Jul 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
a moving snapshot of what we had on the Great Plains and a hanging-by-a-thread dream of what we might have again ... Dan doesn't resort to name calling, rather he paints a picture and in the process gives us a treasure ... none of us will see the Plains as they were intended, as they evolved 10,000 years ago, but I am thankful that I now have that wild place in my mind's eye, it makes me a more complete American ...more
Rob Prince
Sep 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Would hope that every school kid living from Montana to Texas...including Colorado...reads...
John Hatfield
Jul 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Phenomenal book. I wish they would have taught this history in school rather than the boring crap they taught us.
Feb 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing

"How we react to animals is in part primate hard-wiring. The thump in the dark, the start to full waking, the pounding heart can transport us back to our African origins in a fraction of a second. But mostly what we think when "bear" comes to mind emerges from the tangled mess of software programs that is culture. What we've heard, what we've read, what we've inferred, what others have implied, for some of us what we've experienced-- all these and other ways of absorbing information-- go into cr
Joy Rowland
Jul 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020-books
I learned so much about the great American plains animals and landscapes. Really enjoyed how each chapter highlighted a specific animal. Coyotes, bears and bison oh my!
Tim Martin
Well-written, accessible, and interesting overview of the past, present, and future of the mammalian megafauna of the Great Plains from the Canadian border (and discussing Canada a few times as well) south to Texas and Mexico (though the vast majority of the book deals with the United States). Interspersed with a few anecdotes of the author’s travels in the Great Plains, encounters with its wildlife, and his experiences with his wolf-dog hybrid companions, the chapters were a good combination of ...more
Eddie Callaway
Sep 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020
Some sections were a little bit slow, but the chapters on wild horses, coyotes, and bison were worth reading a second time. Also, the final chapter on loving the plains should be taught in schools. So many people dismiss the "flyover country" that we do a disservice to one of the most important ecological regions on the globe.

Must read!
Oct 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a great overview of the plight of the different plains animals that suffered at the hand of the white men as they settled the west. I think this story is an incredibly vital part of American history that most know little to nothing about. In my opinion, it's possibly the most important piece of history for anyone that identifies as a conservationist or environmentalist to understand. Reading both this and his other book Coyote America are both highly recommended. ...more
Robert Cox
Sep 30, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: spot-stalk
Dances with Wolves and a textbook have a lovechild

2.5. Written with the luxury of 21st century morality and hindsight. The author often diverges from a scientific look at the NA Midwest, pre & post Anglo contact, to hop on the conveniently located soapbox and anthropomorphize the animals of the plains while also falling into the "noble savage" paradigm that I thought went out of style with Robinson Crusoe.

Also doesn't cover all the cool animals in enough detail. More direwolf, American Lion, Sm
Bob Stocker
Oct 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
This morning my wife and I visited Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge and saw half a dozen bison that are descendants of the more than 10 million bison that once freely roamed the North America's Great Plains along with pronghorn, grizzly bears, wolves, wild horses, and coyotes. In American Serengeti Dan Flores tells how Americans changed the Great Plains from a magical haven for wildlife into a dull expanse of cattle ranches and farms. It's a sad story with a plethora of villains a ...more
Jul 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a really fascinating read. I particularly like how Flores incorporates Big History - the period of time well before Europeans arrived on the continent, stretching back to the Pleistocene. His discussion of the charismatic megafauna that onced roamed the American Plains is fascinating, and it sets the stage well for what came in later millennia. I really had no idea of the scale and rapidity of big predator killing by bounty hunters in the second half of the 19th century. This book makes ...more
Francis Bezooyen
May 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book paints a truly inspiring picture of what the great plains of North America had once been like, coupled with a heartbreaking chronicle of the demise of this wilderness and the animals that once roamed there in vast numbers. I have come away from this reading dismayed by what our ancestors did, and what we are still doing throughout so much of the world, and yet inspired to do something to help undo that damage.
Oct 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
I have a complicated emotional relationship with the Great Plains. I spent my sixth through ninth grade years in Lawton, Oklahoma right in the heart of the Southern Great Plains. Those aren't particularly happy years for anyone. I've tied a lot of those feelings to the place, and walked away from them when I moved to Germany as a sophomore.
It's not pancake flat, but flat enough to be a bit depressing. Very few trees. Mostly just fields and fields of farmland. I earned my Eagle Scout award in th
Jun 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This little book is a treasure for anyone who wants to understand a great environmental tragedy that helped shape American history--the destruction of the bison and other animals that once roamed the Great Plains.

Dan Flores gives the big picture, then breaks it down with essays about six important species: pronghorns, coyotes, wild horses, grizzles, bison and wolves. He paints some fascinating pictures--Europeans coming to the plains on elaborate safaris--and raises provocative questions about m
Shawn Thrasher
Jan 28, 2021 rated it it was amazing
The Great Plains of North America used to be a place similar to the Africa of National Geographic: instead of wildebeest and zebras and lions there were bison as far as the eye could see mixed with pronghorns hunted by packs of wolves, huge herds of reintroduced wild horses, grizzly bears and other animals. Flores’s book is a dark, sad tale about how humans gutted the Plaines for profit (and surprisingly not just Europeans either, although obviously the colonizers played a huge role). He takes u ...more
Jan 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Informative, but very sad. It makes me ashamed of our species. I truly don't understand why so many humans have an obsession to kill other creatures simply because they exist. This slaughter on the Great Plains was not done primarily for food or even to clear a space for farms and ranches, although some killing was done for these reasons, of course. The most disturbing aspect was the wholesale murder of millions of animals in the most inhumane ways imaginable simply because their presence was of ...more
Nov 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
After reading another of Dan Flores's books, Coyote America, I was so enthused I sought out this one. I can't say enough good things about this book. I don't know of another writer in the natural sciences that brings to the table what Flores does in his books. He is an excellent writer and storyteller. He makes it a treat to read about ecology and history and nature and anthropology, engaging the reader and using his writerly tools to make readers care about what he's writing about. I myself hav ...more
Jan 11, 2020 added it
This is a very romantic, sometimes silly, book about 6 "charismatic megafauna" of the Great Plains: animals that people emotionally engage with and have lots of opinions about (and Flores more than most). They are also animals that people have put a lot of effort into wiping out. I liked the coyote chapter the best, which is the most upbeat chapter, being about how these fuzzy cockroaches are uneradicable and will invade your cities if you drive them from their native ranges. But the general ten ...more
Jul 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a really interesting look at the loss of a hugely important uniquely American ecosystem and the many species that once occupied it.

Before starting this I had listened to a lot of podcasts with the author, and I may have learned too much from said podcasts. It was nice to get more detail from the book though. I especially enjoyed the chapters on brown bears and the wolves.

I also read his coyote book recently, which I enjoyed immensely, which also kind of tainted how much I liked this bo
Nov 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting perspective on the Great Plains. Takes the reader all the way back to early animal life and all the way up to the present day. I had no idea of the size and scope of animal herds at different time periods and what elements impacted various animal populations. There is a chapter on each of the former large animals that were brought to near extinction. And the book ends with a discussion on what is possible now in terms of restoring at least some of this land back to its former ecosyst ...more
Nov 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
An fascinating historical look at America's Great Prairie and a timely plea to restore it. This book covers the history of a few of the megafauna and their paths as the prairie lands receded.

A sampling of megafauna that once walked the America's Great Prairie: Giant Steppe Lion, mammoths, cheetah-like cats (related to cougars), saber toothed cats, scimitar cats, Giant Ground sloths, long horned bison, short-faced bears, hyenas, dire wolves, camels, and wild horses.

On Wolves: The wolf didn't des
Jon Wlasiuk
Jun 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Today the Great Plains doesn’t capture our attention as anything more than flyover country with troubling political divisions. Dan Flores resurrects a much different landscape before it was “skinned” by market imperatives: an American Serengeti populated with millions of bison, horses, antelope, wolves, and grizzly bears that inspired reverence among the native inhabitants and artistic exuberance among American artists from Georgia O’Keefe to Willa Cather. This is no eulogy, however. Flores argu ...more
Nov 30, 2019 rated it liked it
Spoiler alert: the great plains of North America was once pretty much like the Serengeti, complete with giant bison, prairie bears, prairie wolves, freaking elephants, and so much more, but humans nearly completely destroyed it to grow corn syrup and just for the fun of killing things we found peculiar.

This book was pretty good, but I was surprised to be kind of bored through a lot of it even though it's a fascinating subject. There are some great historical accounts of the great plains and its
Celeste Bean
Jan 31, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: environmental
I've been on a kick about American wildlife (See: Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter by Ben Goldfarb and American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon by Steven Rinella), and this book fit the bill. Dan Flores does a reasonably good job of connecting the narratives of multiple charismatic megafauna, and I learned a lot of fun facts.

I don't think this book changed my perspective too much, but it did entertain me while I listened to it. Some facts I found especially in
Nov 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
A short and rather depressing history of the great plains and the animals and people who lived there. It does clean up some commonly held myths about issues such as the near extinction of the American bison and 'who dun' it'.

The author draws from a range of sources including, science, history, and current political issues to paint a picture of a singular landscape that was the closest thing to Africa outside of Africa that was ground down into ruin by free market capitalism.

My only complaints is
Dec 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio-books, science
The best parts of the books were the ones about the pleistocene environment. I realize that even the more boring parts about US internal politics were important since it has a lot to do with environmental protection laws, but I just wanted to hear more about mastodons and other prehistoric creatures, 'cause nothing makes me happier than paleontology.

If you are interested in the politics, this is probably 5/5 for you. (And for the record, that is important shit. I just wanted a book to help with
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Dan L. Flores is an American historian who specializes in cultural and environmental studies of the American West. He holds the A.B. Hammond Chair in Western History at the University of Montana in Missoula, Montana.

Flores is the author of eight books, including: Horizontal Yellow: Nature and History in the Near Southwest (1999); The Natural West: Environmental History in the Great Plains and Rock

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