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Wolves and Men in America

Jon T. Coleman

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A provocative history of wolves in America and of the humans who first destroyed them and now offer them protection

“A shocking cultural study of our long, sadistic crusade against wolves. Moving brilliantly through history, economics, and biology, Coleman...explains America’s fevered obsession with these animals."—Ron Charles, Washington Post Book Club

Over a continent and three centuries, American livestock owners destroyed wolves to protect the beasts that supplied them with food, clothing, mobility, and wealth. The brutality of the campaign soon exceeded wolves’ misdeeds. Wolves menaced property, not people, but storytellers often depicted the animals as ravenous threats to human safety. Subjects of nightmares and legends, wolves fell prey not only to Americans’ thirst for land and resources but also to their deeper anxieties about the untamed frontier.

Now Americans study and protect wolves and jail hunters who shoot them without authorization. Wolves have become the poster beasts of the great American wilderness, and the federal government has paid millions of dollars to reintroduce them to scenic habitats like Yellowstone National Park.

Why did Americans hate wolves for centuries? And, given the ferocity of this loathing, why are Americans now so protective of the animals? In this ambitious history of wolves in America—and of the humans who have hated and then loved them—Jon Coleman investigates a fraught relationship between two species and uncovers striking similarities, deadly differences, and, all too frequently, tragic misunderstanding.

Jon T. Coleman teaches history at the University of Notre Dame.

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"This is a bold, smart, and original book, written with verve and imagination. Far more than a history of wolves in America, it is a meditation on the meanings of time, history, and culture, and an inquiry into the nature of cruelty and hatred."—Andrew Cayton, Distinguished Professor of History, Miami University

"A fabulous book. Coleman is a witty, incisive writer who has unearthed a new history for America’s hate-love relationship with wolves. This is a work of exceptional ambition at the cutting edge of environmental history."—Louis Warren, author of Hunter’s Game, and W. Turrentine Jackson Professor of Western U.S. History, University of California, Davis

"Coleman writes with a vibrancy that puts much academic history to shame.  He uses vivid language, deploys a wide range of metaphors, chooses telling examples, and generally knows how to tell a good story.  In part because of his skill as a writer, once I picked the book up, I didn't want to put it down again."—Mark V. Barrow, Jr.

"A fascinating book which draws on historical, biological and cultural insights in a penetrating analysis of how Americans have interacted with a major predator. Coleman’s approach allows us to understand fully why we eliminated wolves from the United States, and why recent debates over wolf reintroduction have been so heated."—Robert Keiter, author of Keeping Faith with Nature and The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (also Wallace Stegner Professor of Law and director of the Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources and the Environment at the University of Utah)

“Ambitious. . . . By revisiting a painful past, Coleman will help keep progress for today’s wolves heading in the right direction.”—Hillary Rosner, Audubon

"Vicious seeks to explain the social history that catapulted an animal once uniformly reviled to (for many) near-iconic status. . . . Hard to read in places, hard to believe in others, Vicious provides fascinating documentation of the savagery lurking just beneath humanity's civilized surface."—Adrian Barnett, California Wild

"Engaging and well documented from primary sources, Vicious forces readers to reflect on the relationship between human beings and this magnificent predator, and on people’s responsibilities to the wider world. Recommended."—Choice

"Coleman chronicles the 300-year old relationship between European Americans and their canid contemporaries. . . . His remarkable book reveals the limits of human rationality, its inability to penetrate a mystery as old as Genesis. Although his work will be catalogued as social history, it is also a remarkable breviary on the problem of evil."—Mark Ralls, Christian Century

"This is a provocative history of wolves in America and of the humans who first destroyed them and now offer them protection."—Fort Collins Coloradoan

“An excellent new book . . . a groundbreaking study that examines the particular folk tales at work in individual episodes of wolf killing. . . . Full of new ideas, animated by a lively narrative, Vicious is a tremendous accomplishment that deserves a wide public audience.”—Jim Williams, International Wolf

"Coleman delineates human-canine interactions with lively prose and copious detail. He deftly weaves together the histories of settler and lupine societies, raising important questions of how we relate to nature en route. . . . A provocative, scholarly, and readable text."—Karen R. Jones, Journal of American History

"This book blends cultural, social and economic history with biology in a fascinating tale of the interactions between two predatory species. . . . [Coleman] examines in eloquent fashion the legendary and mythical origins of human's hatred of wolves. . . . This book will be of great interest to historians and biologists and should be read by everyone."—Gary Hulett, Journal of the West

"Coleman tells a wonderfully nuanced history of [the] practices and policies [of predator control]. What makes the book so compelling, however, is the story of how wolf killing was woven into the fabric of American culture and folklore. . . . [Vicious] makes a significant contribution to the effort of environmental scholars to illuminate the complex relationship between nature and culture. Thoughtfully conceived, insightful, and well written, Vicious is a wicked good read."—Andrew Kirk, Montana

"[A] fine book. . . . As wolves expand their range . . . one cannot help but conclude that animals have remade us just as surely as we have remade them. . . . Coleman ably explain[s] how this happened in North America, and [his] work suggests that it might well be time to dispose of outworn sartorial metaphors."—Joseph Cullon, New England Quarterly

"The information on wolf behavior and research is exceptional. Extensive notes reflect the dissertation quality of the text. Overall, this volume is an excellent blending of biology, history, and folklore. It is also a welcome addition to the shelf of environmental books."—Patricia Ann Owens, South Dakota History

"This is a fine book."—Brett L. Walker, American Historical Review

"Vicious, historian Jon Coleman's first book, is a smart, engagingly written, wildly imaginative study of specific regions and times that Coleman uses to distill the human/wolf relationship in America over the past four hundred years. The book is a case study approach using New England, Ohio, the Great Plains, the Central Rockies, and to some extent, Colorado to convey its interpretation."—Dan Flores, Western Historical Quarterly

"Vicious is well written and easy to read. . . . A good read and a book that deserves a wide readership."—Current Anthropology

"Marvelous. . . . Vicious deserves a wide audience. The storytelling is superb, the analysis fascinating, and the descriptions of both science and folklore bring clarity and life to what can be technical and arcane. Coleman even adds a dash of humor to the mix, making this the sort of book that undergraduates and general readers will appreciate."—Tim Lehman, H-Net Reviews

"This is a remarkably well-written, provocative and insightful work of history on a timely and important topic."—Alan Taylor, University of California at Davis

"A book that’s been seared in my memory. . . . A shocking cultural study of our long, sadistic crusade against wolves. Moving brilliantly through history, economics, and biology, Coleman . . . explains America’s fevered obsession with these animals, the way they’ve inhabited our nightmares and folktales since Europeans first arrived in the New World."—Ron Charles, Washington Post Book Club

Awarded the 2005 W. Turrentine Jackson Award by the Western History Association

Winner of the 2005 John H. Dunning Prize for 2005 sponsored by the American Historical Association.
ISBN: 9780300119725
Publication Date: November 15, 2006
288 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
3 maps, 5 graphs, + 16 halftone illus.
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