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Good Reads  Mammals  Insectivores to Ungulates  Carnivores  Wolves, Dogs, Foxes & other Canids

The Wolf A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West

Nature Writing
By: Nate Blakeslee(Author)
300 pages, no illustrations
Weaving together many disparate storylines into a captivating book, The Wolf tells of the fascinating lives of wolves in Yellowstone National Park and the passions stirred by their reintroduction.
The Wolf
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  • The Wolf ISBN: 9781786074072 Paperback Sep 2018 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 6 days
  • The Wolf ISBN: 9781786073129 Hardback Nov 2017 Out of Print #237534
Selected version: £10.99
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About this book

The wolf stands at the forefront of the debate about our impact on the natural world. In one of the most celebrated successes of modern conservation, it has been reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park.

What unfurls is a riveting multi-generational saga, at the centre of which is O-Six, a charismatic alpha female beloved by park rangers and amateur spotters alike. As elk numbers decline and the wolf population rises, those committed to restoring an iconic landscape clash with those fighting for a vanishing way of life, hunters stalk the park fringes and O-Six's rivals seek to bring an end to her dominance of the stunningly beautiful Lamar Valley.

Customer Reviews (1)

  • Weaves together many disparate storylines into a captivating book
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 27 Jan 2023 Written for Paperback

    This review is a case of coming late to the party. The Wolf by Texas journalist Nate Blakeslee was published back in 2017, two years before wolf watcher Rick McIntyre's series of books on famous wolves in Yellowstone National Park was published. I imagine most people will have read Blakeslee's book first, but for me it was the other way around. Having just reviewed McIntyre's The Alpha Female Wolf, which tells of the life and death of arguably the park's most famous wolf, wolf 06, I was left with many questions regarding the hunting of wolves around Yellowstone. Blakeslee's book turned out to be an excellent companion.

    Let me back up for a moment in case you are new to this topic. The reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in 1995 is widely considered a success story in wildlife conservation and they have since been intensively studied by biologists. Their daily lives have been scrutinized by a small cadre of dedicated wolf watchers. From the start, however, hunters and ranchers in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho fiercely opposed the project. As a compromise, the US Fish and Wildlife Service promised that the wolf would be taken off the endangered species list once the population had sufficiently recovered, allowing each state to draw up its own wildlife management strategy. Amidst many political and legal battles, this came to pass in 2009, meaning wolves could be legally hunted again. Against this backdrop, the Yellowstone wolves go about their daily lives, watched and admired by thousands of park visitors, with wolf 06 becoming a legend. When a hunter kills her in December 2012, it sets off a national furore. To Blakeslee falls the unenviable task to weave together all these threads into a coherent whole.

    Having reviewed and enjoyed all four of McIntyre's books, the storyline of the lives of the wolves in the park was familiar to me. Blakeslee has the advantage of having access to other dedicated wolf watchers and their notes, allowing him to present some of the highlights of this multigenerational wolf saga. If you are completely new to this topic, the flurry of numerical designations and pack names might be somewhat confusing: the pedigree at the start of the book only shows 06's lineage. Nevertheless, the narrative Blakeslee pieces together makes it clear why people get hooked on watching wolves.

    Specifically of interest to me was the biographical sketch of McIntyre, as he barely talks about himself in his books. A sweet man possessed of a nearly child-like innocence, he is socially awkward and prefers his own company. The same compulsion that drove him to get the perfect shot in his previous career as a wildlife photographer now drives him into the park, at times risking his life to see wolves every single day. The thought of writing and promoting books, and thus leaving behind his daily routine in Yellowstone, makes him uncomfortable. And thus he keeps religiously recording everything he observes until it becomes an end unto itself. Fortunately for us, he eventually breaks that addiction, but not until two decades have passed.

    The polar opposite of those who watch wolves are those who want them dead. Though, as Blakeslee shows, attitudes amongst hunters and ranchers are a bit more nuanced than that. Some, including wildlife biologists, argue pragmatically that predator populations need managing to protect livestock. Others, such as the man who killed wolf 10, will ride their horse down the local high street during Independence Day, proudly sporting a t-shirt that reads "Northern Rockies Wolf Reduction Project". I think Blakeslee captures the heart of the conflict when he writes that this is about federal overreach: "wolves were just the latest flashpoint [...] the real struggle was over [management of] public land" (pp. 127–128).

    And then there is the hunter who shot 06. A friend is willing to pass on Blakeslee's contact details and the man, here pseudonymized as Steven Turnbull to protect his identity, reaches out to tell his story. An outdoorsman besotted with big-game hunting, he is unrepentant, boasting he would do it again. He is genuinely mystified by the enthusiasm of wolf watchers and maintains that he has done nothing wrong. I think Blakeslee gives a fair portrayal of Turnbull, allowing him to unload his story without judging him, although there are details he is not impressed with. Perhaps surprisingly, to me, Turnbull does not emerge as the book's antihero.

    If there are villains here, they would have to be the governors and senators for who the wolves are just pawns in political power games. The wolf is delisted, declared protected, and then delisted again as various interest groups thwart each other through court cases and political shenanigans. This was exactly the backstory that McIntyre, as a former National Park Service employee, carefully avoided commenting on in The Alpha Female Wolf. What also becomes painfully clear is that federal agencies, e.g. the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and various state agencies primarily serve the interests of hunters and ranchers. Wildlife protection is a happy coincidence if it happens to align with e.g. maintaining population levels of game.

    Despite providing much sought-after context to the complicated situation around wolf reintroduction, the book did feel slightly uneven in places. Montana has always been a swing state in national elections, and in 2010 its Democratic senator is up against a Republican candidate who is making populist anti-wolf noises that are winning him votes, Blakeslee implies that the Democrats maintain control by throwing wolf protection under the bus. Can national politics really be reduced to wolves? Similarly, when he covers the 2010 lawsuit that sought to return wolves to the endangered species list, the arguments in favour are described in great detail, but the arguments against in a mere two pages. Furthermore, Blakeslee does not talk to any ranchers who lose livestock to predators, something Philippa Forrester did in On The Trail of Wolves. Finally, Blakeslee's discussion of trophic cascades in the park as a result of wolf reintroduction tends towards a simplistic portrayal of wolves as some sort of canine fairy dust that you can sprinkle on broken ecosystems to fix them. Only in the source notes does he briefly mention that e.g. wolf biologist David Mech has warned against simplistic interpretations.

    This criticism notwithstanding, overall The Wolf succeeds in bringing together many disparate strands and weaving them into a captivating book. I found it a very useful companion to McIntyre's writing but it also shines as a standalone book that tells of the fascinating lives of wolves in Yellowstone and the passions stirred by their reintroduction.
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Nate Blakeslee is a writer-at-large for Texas Monthly. His first book, Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town, was named a New York Times Notable Book of 2005 and The Washington Post called it one of the most important books about wrongful convictions ever written. He lives with his family in Austin, Texas.

Nature Writing
By: Nate Blakeslee(Author)
300 pages, no illustrations
Weaving together many disparate storylines into a captivating book, The Wolf tells of the fascinating lives of wolves in Yellowstone National Park and the passions stirred by their reintroduction.
Media reviews

"Inspired by the most charismatic of animals, this is a story of dedication and determination, of conflict and passion and like all good stories it challenges your thoughts and fires up your emotions."
– Kate Humble

"Gripping and fascinating! Wolf vs wolf, wolf vs man, man vs man."
– Margaret Atwood (via Twitter)

"Heartbreaking front-line coverage of our war on the wild [...] Blakeslee, hauntingly, gives the victims faces, families and stories. A quietly angry, aching, important book."
– Charles Foster, author of Being a Beast

"A compelling environmental drama of the reintroduction of wolves to the Rockies, as clear-sighted on human politics as it is on wolf politics. As wolf packs battle one another for control of precious territory, unknown to them another battle is taking place, between the wolves' supporters and those who would eradicate them."
– Neil Ansell, author of Deep Country: Five Years in the Welsh Hills

'Wolves are neither gods nor demons. Real wolves are complex beings with personalities, ambitions, careers, and – thanks to us – more than their fair share of tragedy. The Wolf gives us true profiles of wolf lives lived in their actual families. And when humans get involved, the trajectory of their lives forever changes."
– Carl Safina, author of Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel

'Blakeslee gives us a very different sort of biography – the saga of a single female wolf, "the most famous wolf in the world", and her exploits in Yellowstone National Park. It's a startlingly intimate portrait of the intricate, loving, human-like interrelationships that govern wolves in the wild, as observed in real time by a cadre of dedicated wolf-watchers – in the end, a drama of lupine love, care, and grief."
– Erik Larson, author of The Devil in the White City and Dead Wake

'Wild, poignant, and compelling, The Wolf is an important, beautifully wrought book about animals, about values, and about living on this earth."
– Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief and Rin Tin Tin

"The Wolf is a transcendent tale of the American West. I loved the doggedness and depth of the reporting, the texture of the writing. There are echoes of Jack London everywhere. But above all I loved the wolf herself, a character like no other I have ever encountered."
– S. C. Gwynne, author of Empire of the Summer Moon and Rebel Yell

"An intimate and riveting book about America's most iconic and embattled predator. Blakeslee moves effortlessly between the ancient drama of the wolf pack, and its modern human counterpart, the sometimes vicious, red state-blue state partisans whose battleground is the fate of the American wolf. A wonderful and welcome addition to the pantheon of nature literature."
– John Vaillant, author of The Tiger and The Golden Spruce

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