Rating Now: 10/10
Max Rating: 10/10*
In the mid-1990s in the midst of Perestroika, an Amur tiger kills multiple humans in the Russian Far East. The incident alarms locals, but investigative tiger protection units analyze and uncover the truth about this tiger: it’s becoming smarter, more human-like, and more deadly.
The author, John Vaillant, is now one of my favorite authors. He does an incredible job weaving the narrative (what happened in Russia with this specific Amur tiger) with themes that resonate with all humans. Are 5-600 lb Amur tigers a predatory match for humans? What does it mean to hunt the “other”? Are we disconnected from some fundamental human-ness that the rugged individuals of the Russian far east know intimately?
This particular Amur tiger isn’t killing for sport. He targeted hunters and especially the ones who had shot or stolen from him. Not only did he kill three humans, but he became increasingly capable as he did so. At one point he even broke into a man’s home, laid in the bed, and waited for his prey to arrive. This is the stuff of legends.
A recounting of the story itself would have been powerful enough. But Vaillant does an exceptional job displaying the splendor of the Amur tiger and the plight of this and many other species in a human-dominated world. He explores topics dear to my heart such as hunting and the relationship of a hunter with his prey.
This was one of the most beautiful books that I have read and definitely the #1 for 2019.
- Amur tigers are arguably the greatest predator on the planet. At 5-600 lbs today (they may have gotten to 800 lbs before humans hurt their gene pool and numbers), they can be 9 feet long and 3 feet tall. Their claws are not meant for digging like most animals, but have razor sharp blades second only to snake fangs in sharpness. They will eat wolves, bears, and anything they want.
- Amur tigers are incredibly smart animals. Numerous examples showed that they knew when humans were stealing from them and settling the score. They know the difference between a helicopter and a car and which one could spell danger for them.
- Amur tigers can bite up to 1000 lbs per square inch. Only 5 lbs of pressure is needed to close the carotid artery and 10 lbs to crush the windpipe. A tiger can put prey to sleep very easily.
- Animals were our first storytellers. The prints in the snow, their movement, their behavior. These were the first things that we understood, we learned, and we shared with others. This is the reason why cave paintings almost always depict animals.
A few quotes I loved:
- “No matter how much you feed him, he keeps looking at the forest” – Russian proverb
- “Men carry their superiority inside and animals outside.” – Russian proverb
- “The hunt, like love making, occurs in a timeless zone where all external measures cease to apply. It is a ritual of concentration that determines life and death for all concerned.” – John Vaillant
- No more big-box wood furniture – Big box retailers sell wooden furniture made in China, but the wood is sourced from the Russian far east forests, which is habitat for the Amur tiger. I don’t need to buy furniture often, but when I do it will be local. No need to support deforestation that harms the Amur tiger.
* The time of life I read a book impacts the score. My Rating Now is how valuable the book was currently. However, at a different part of my life it might receive my Max Rating. Sometimes they are one and the same.
Evernote book notes here