The late nineteenth and early twentieth century were a brutal time for American wildlife, with many species pushed to the brink of extinction. (Some are endangered to this day.) And yet these decades also saw the dawn of the conservationist movement. Into this contradictory era came William Temple Hornaday, a larger-than-life dynamo who almost uncannily embodies these conflicting threads in our history.
In The Most Defiant Devil, a compelling new biography of this complex figure, Gregory Dehler explores the life of Hornaday the hunter, museum builder, zoologist, author, conservationist, and anti-Bolshevist crusader. A deeply religious man, he was nonetheless anything but peaceful and was racist even by his era's standards, going so far as to display an Mbuti pygmy as a "living specimen" in a zoo. A passionate hunter, Hornaday killed thousands of animals, including some of the last wild buffalo in America, but he was far ahead of his time in his influential views on the protection of wildlife. Hornaday designed and built the New York Zoological Park (which became the Bronx Zoo) and was chief taxidermist for what would later become the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. In this single, fascinating individual, we can discern some of the Progressive Era's most destructive forces and some of its most enlightened visions.
Gregory J. Dehler is the author of Chester Alan Arthur: The Life of a Gilded Age Politician and President.
"Among Progressive Era conservationists, William Temple Hornaday was the odd man in (and out). In bringing this powerful and pugnacious man to life, Gregory Dehler shrewdly exposes some of the central tensions embedded within early American environmental culture."
– Char Miller, Pomona College, author of Public Lands, Public Debates: A Century of Controversy
"Hornaday was certainly one of the most important people in Progressive Era conservationism, and we can't comprehend its successes and failures without understanding him. Dehler reminds us of both Hornaday's importance and his complexity and succeeds in telling the complete story of his life."
– Kurk Dorsey, University of New Hampshire, author of The Dawn of Conservation Diplomacy: U.S.-Canadian Wildlife Protection Treaties in the Progressive Era
"A biography of this important and fascinating man is long overdue. Gregory J. Dehler's The Most Defiant Devil finally fills that vacuum, giving a rich and complete life of [the] man. [...] Gregory Dehler's The Most Defiant Devil is a brilliantly written and finely researched look at William Temple Hornaday. Dehler presents the famed zoologist in all his glory and pathos. This is an essential book in our growing U.S. environmental history library. Highly recommended!"
– Douglas G. Brinkley, Rice University, author of The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America
"The Most Defiant Devil is Dehler's noteworthy chronicle of the life and career of this key figure in the conservation movement. He reveals a fascinating American, a man of vision and conviction whose stubbornness and hubris won him allies and enemies among lawmakers, potential patrons and fellow conservationists [...] Dehler's biography performs the kind of work Hornaday once cherished – the dissecting and rebuilding of a unique specimen for people to ponder and cherish."
– Associated Press
"William Temple Hornaday, the Bronx Zoo's first director, recorded every detail of his angry animal-protection battles [...] What fueled his compulsiveness was a conviction, unchanged during his directorship from 1896 to 1926, that American wildlife would be extinct by 1950. 'He wanted there to be a record that at least one person had tried to stop that'"
– New York Times
"Hornaday is no longer a household name, but he is a significant figure in conservation history. Here, Dehler (Chester Alan Arthur, 2007) provides an interesting, well-researched account of Hornaday's contributions to the field."