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American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains

4.31  ·  Rating details ·  551 ratings  ·  61 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
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
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
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
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.
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 authors 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
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
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 ...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 ...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 ...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
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
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 ...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
Jon Wlasiuk
Jun 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Today the Great Plains doesnt 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 OKeefe to Willa Cather. This is no eulogy, however. Flores argues ...more
Dec 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, audio-books
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
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
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 ...more
Kennie Fleharty
Jul 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful and ver informative book on the fate of the Great Plains big animals. This is a sad book, but it was incredibly enlightening and very well written (and read!). The book is divided into chapters based on species, such as wolf, antelope, bison ect. and provides a very detailed history on that specific animal and its history with humans, both Native and White settlers. The chapter them goes into the massive about of killing White hunters and ranchers have done to that species, and then ...more
Jan 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: could-not-finish
Detailed, rich, full of history. The author's vivid descriptions fuel the reader's imagination. I think this would be an excellent book for any interested adult, or advanced-reading +12 or +13 year old who is fascinated by the American West, animal husbandry, history, geology/archaeology/zoology.

Unfortunately, the book does not lend itself well to an audio format, and as such I am finding it very difficult to get through.

If I have the opportunity to sit and read a physical book, rather than
Libby Claerbout
Jan 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
The text is pretty science-y at times and those sections are more difficult to follow than the rest. But overall this is an interesting and devastating story of the Great Plains. I liked learning about the region I call home (and have travelled extensively throughout my adult life), and the history of the mega fauna that evolved here. I also appreciated the big history perspective of the same area and animals. I did not like learning about how destructive humans have been to this region, thanks ...more
Oct 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great account of the demise of the great plains, but extremely depressing and full unnecessary political statements. The author also writes at times for general audiences by explaining basic principles of ecology, but at other times casually discusses more involved ecological principles without a hint of background. Overall, I enjoyed the book and learned a lot about North American human and game history, which is why I bought it in the first place. But the politics just took away a little from ...more
Sep 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
3.5 for me personally. I wasn't particularly interested in the subject, and picked up the book hoping to educate myself more on it. Listened to the audio version and didn't quite like the narrator, which is, I think, why I didn't enjoy the book as much as I could have.
It is well written, there are many interesting moments and I could definitely feel Dan Flores' love for the animals and passion for the topic through his words.
Eric C Cassidy
Sep 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
my favorite part was about the bear who they shot 8 times and he bit into one of the hunter's heads and punctured his skull, they found his brain leaking out a few days after and not much sooner did he die. Life Lesson: don't poke the bear.

I also hope to advocate for more wildlife restoration of the charismatic megafauna, after a driving through the Great Plains and then also taking a trip to the African Serengeti, I would love to have our own American style brought back here.
Taylor T
Oct 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Incredibly moving and fascinating

This books perfectly elucidates the utterly spectacular throngs of Wildlife that once dominated the American continent for the past 10000 years. Its clever writing and remarkable research left me with a head full of fascinating facts, anecdotes from early explorers, and it gave me a reinvigorated passion to protect what little we have left. A great work.
Mike McGinley
Apr 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Hope for the future...

Dan Flores masterfully crafted a fast paced, interesting read that describes in historical detail how we once had the equivalent of a the present day Serengeti in North America and how we lost it in the 19th and 20th centuries. He wraps things up by describing a plan for restoring parts of it in a Yellowstone like Great Plains National Park.
Seth Sivils
Feb 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Thoroughly enjoyed Dan's work. Purchased Coyote America for a next read. As a hunter and conservationist this book is so eye opening. At times the sorrow you feel know what we did to this nation's flora and fauna is unimaginable. Great information and history of the great wilderness that used to be. Maybe the time exist to restore glimpses of the past.
Theres probably nothing wrong with this book, but I found it a bit difficult to focus on. Perhaps it would have been easier to read it in print, with some pictures and maps to accompany it. It is definitely an interesting book if you dont get too depressed about humans killing off any species they come across. ...more
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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

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“We stood by and allowed what happened to the Great Plains a century ago, the destruction of one of the ecological wonders of the world. In modern America, we need to see this with clear eyes, and soberly, so that we understand well that the flyover country of our own time derives much of its forgettability from being a slate wiped almost clean of its original figures.” 3 likes
“Why did we so consistently look at the West through the sights of a rifle?” 0 likes
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