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 will survive only if conservationists keep rigging the world around them in their favor. So Mooallem ventures into the field, often taking his daughter with him, to move beyond childlike fascination and make those creatures feel more real. Wild Ones is a tour through our environmental moment and the eccentric cultural history of people and wild animals in America that inflects it – from Thomas Jefferson's celebrations of early abundance to the turn-of the-last-century origins of the teddy bear to the whale-loving hippies of the 1970s. In America, Wild Ones discovers, wildlife has always inhabited the terrain of our imagination as much as the actual land.
The journey is framed by the stories of three modern-day endangered species: the polar bear, victimized by climate change and ogled by tourists outside a remote northern town; the little-known Lange's metalmark butterfly, foundering on a shred of industrialized land near San Francisco; and the whooping crane as it's led on a months-long migration by costumed men in ultralight airplanes. The wilderness that Wild Ones navigates is a scrappy, disorderly place where amateur conservationists do grueling, sometimes preposterous-looking work; where a marketer maneuvers to control the polar bear's image while Martha Stewart turns up to film those beasts for her show on the Hallmark Channel. Our most comforting ideas about nature unravel. In their place, Mooallem forges a new and affirming vision of the human animal and the wild ones as kindred creatures on an imperfect planet.
With propulsive curiosity and searing wit, and without the easy moralizing and nature worship of environmental journalism's older guard, Wild Ones merges reportage, science, and history into a humane and endearing meditation on what it means to live in, and bring a life into, a broken world.
"It is impossible to express, within the tiny game-park confines of a back cover, how amazing I find this book. I love it line by perfect, carefully crafted line, and I love it for the freshness and intelligent humanity of its ideas. As literary nonfiction, as essay, as reportage, Wild Ones is, to my mind, about as good as writing gets."
– Mary Roach, author of Stiff and Gulp
"I love Jon Mooallem and I love animals, but this book is even better than the sum of its parts. Mooallem makes a persuasive case that wild animals are America's cultural heritage – our Sistine Chapel and our Great Books – and the story he tells is an archetypal American one. Even as the animals are being destroyed by unthinking, unconscious corporate forces, they are also being rescued through the tremendous energy and ingenuity of individuals, men and women who wear whooping-crane costumes, cohabitate with dolphins, and encourage condors to ejaculate on their heads. Wild Ones made me proud to be American."
– Elif Batuman, author of The Possessed
"Part harrowing arctic adventure, part crazy airborne travelogue, and often funny family trek, Wild Ones shows us that while saving species might be of debatable value to some, it is maybe in our genes, and definitely in our hearts. Mooallem's analysis of our various environmental movements has the breadth and penetrating clarity of Michael Pollan, but more importantly he makes us wonder even more about a world that is in desperate need of more wonder."
– Robert Sullivan, author of Rats and My American Revolution
"During the course of his three expeditions, Jon Mooallem collects in the specimen jars of his elegant paragraphs enough ironies, curiosities, insights, and revelations – enough life, wild and otherwise – to stock a mind-altering museum, one unlike any other, in which Martha Stewart has wandered into the polar bear exhibit, and the Hall of North American Animals turns out also to be a hall of mirrors. With Mooallem as your nature guide, you won't look at wild animals – or at Homo americanus – quite the same way again."
– Donovan Hohn, author of Moby-Duck
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Jon Mooallem has been a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine since 2006 and is a writer at large for Pop-Up Magazine, the live magazine in San Francisco. He's also contributed to This American Life, The New Yorker, Harper's, Wired, and many other magazines. He and his family live in San Francisco.