Jon Mooallem, Wild Ones

The deep desires of the human species exhibit the wildest, widest biodiversity imaginable: we want everything, and we want it so very, very much.

In his 2013 book Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America, Jon Mooallem documents his time spent with activists of many kinds, each with a fascination with either polar bears, Lange's metal-mark butterflies, or whooping cranes. The tale he comes away with has no more to do with the miracles of non-human evolution than it does with the vagaries of human passions.

Really, the book's about the fundamental paradox of a culture that's aware of its debts to nature: "wildness fulfills certain human needs and is also trampled by them; how easily we can wind up short-circuiting and celebrating it at the same time" (p.271). Or to be vastly more complimentary about it: "The best of us are cursed with caring, with a bungling and undying determination to protect whatever looks like beauty, even if our vision is blurry" (p.293).

Depression is a ready companion when you dip regularly into stories about wildlife, so many of which raise the spectre of extinction. Mooallem confronts and welcomes this depression, since extinction is one of the sparks that generated this book, but it's a bracing read. There's a lot to worry about, but it helps just to know that so many of us are worried -- especially when so many of us are unrepentant weirdos. Weirdness is biodiversity, if I may say, a phrase that just might become my first tattoo.

Incidentally, this book ended up being part of the COOLEST PROMOTIONAL MATERIAL EVER, namely an EP of Mooallem performing stories from the book with the band Black Prairie, in the form of a CD covered in artificial fur. Let's see John Vaillant top that! (Or alternatively, there's Mooallem's TED talk, because of course.)

It's an excellent book, Wild Ones, very appealing in its blend of frank humour and nerdish learnedness. You're really going to enjoy it.


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