Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, totally worn out and screaming,
"WOO HOO, what a ride!"

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

American Buffalo - In Search of a Lost Icon by Steven Rinella

When I first received this book I was curious to see if a hunting enthusiast would write a story that the average, non-hunter could relate to. I wasn't sure if this topic would be interesting to me but I was pleasantly surprised. Steven Rinella wrote a memoir about a lottery he won in 2005 to hunt wild buffalo in Alaska. Before his trip only 3 hunters has succeeded in killing a buffalo. He became the fourth.

The author's fascination with the majestic animal began when he was a child. While on a hunting trip with his brothers he unearthed part of a buffalo's skull. He's been hooked since and even commented on the frequency of buffalo coming up in conversations. He's developed his own word game of random association of related facts and trivia. I was surprised that there were so many ways to do that. (I live near Buffalo, NY so that's one I can think of.) Steven has gone to great lengths to learn every possible fact there is. As he describes his trip in the Alaskan wilderness he interweaves within his chapters all of those details of the history of the buffalo in North America. From the Native Americans to current times he explains everything about how they have hunted this huge animal and why. Because of their size, over one thousand pounds, hunters have had to be creative over the years. Sometimes weapons were used and sometimes they were able to use the land to their advantage. Indians used the "buffalo jump" to effectively kill many animals by gently herding them across a plain and then creating a stampede to drive them over a precipice, an act much more complicated than I would have imagined.

Although this does not emphasize the brutality of hunting and killing, it is described in detail. Growing up on a farm I'm no stranger to using animals for a food source but I do adore animals and don't even like to squash bugs. The stories of how buffalo were hunted, injuries they sustained and how the body was cut up and used after a killing bothered me. I was impressed though when all parts of the animal were used in as many ways as possible. Everything from the fat used as grease, and hair for stuffing in pillows, to buffalo "chips" used to burn in fires.

Steven Rinella's story telling is enhanced with black and white photos and footnotes. He has a dozen pages for his notes for each chapter and the bibliography. Although some of the information he provides may be more interesting to fellow hunters and nature lovers, it's by no means boring to those of us who aren't. He knows his subject well and is a very effective storyteller.

Thank you to Spiegel & Grau and Shelf Awareness for an ARC of this book.


  1. This is not a book I would probably pick up but your interview makes it sound interesting, especially the history of it all.
    Thanks for sharing this!

  2. I just discovered Shelf Awareness today! Love your review. :)

  3. Thank you ladies. It's not a book I would usually choose but it was quite interesting.

    J. Kaye, Shelf Awareness is awesome and there are new surprises there almost every day!


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