Mr. Hornaday's War: How a Peculiar Victorian Zookeeper Waged a Lonely Crusade for Wildlife That Changed the World by Stefan Bechtel (US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)
Published: May 15, 2012
Publisher: Beacon Press
Genre: biography, non-fiction, conservationist, hunter, Victorian
First sentence: "On the fair spring morning of May 6, 1886, an intense-looking young gentleman with eyes that burned like meteors and jet-black beard vaulted up the stairs of a Pennsylvania Railroad westbound train, which was steaming at the platform in Union Station, near downtown Washington D.C."
Acquired: Received an egalley from the publisher through Edelweiss.
Reason for Reading: I particularly enjoy reading biographies of Victorian personalities, especially those who run counter to our modern day perceptions. I was particularly looking forward to the world-wide specimen hunting part of the story and the controversy surrounding his life.
I was not able to finish this book. It's not that I did not like or enjoy it but that I found that it plodded along very slowly. I found myself reluctant to pick it up and it took me an inordinately long time to reach the 49% mark I did read to before deciding to put the book down. It certainly was interesting and I may very well pick it up and finish reading it one day but for now, I've grown tired of the book. One reason I can think of is that the book starts halfway through Hornaday's life and tells his great story of calling attention to the imminent extinction of the buffalo and his hand in saving them from said extinction. Then part two goes back to his early life as an explorer, museum specimen hunter. The buffalo part, while interesting, just went on way too long for my liking and got boring fast, feeling like it would never end, leaving me exhausted by the time the book was finally picking up and becoming much more than just interesting. I just didn't want to open the book anymore. But don't be surprised if at a later date you see me picking it up to finish.
Here is the publisher's summary so you can make your own opinion on the book:
"He was complex, quirky, pugnacious, and difficult. He seemed to create enemies
wherever he went, even among his friends. A fireplug of a man who stood only
five feet eight inches in his stocking feet, he began as a taxidermist and an
adventurer who tracked tigers in Borneo with friendly headhunters, lead
crocodile-hunting expeditions in the Orinoco, and scouted the last remaining
bison in the Montana territories.
William Temple Hornaday (1854-1937) was
also a man ahead of his time. He was the most influential conservationist of the
nineteenth century, second only to his great friend and ally Theodore Roosevelt.
When this one-time big-game collector witnessed the wanton destruction of
wildlife prevalent in the Victorian era, he experienced an awakening and devoted
the rest of his life to protecting our planet's endangered species. Hornaday
founded the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., served for thirty years as
director of the renowned Bronx Zoo, and became a fierce defender of wild animals
and wild places. He devoted fifty years to fighting gun manufacturers, poachers,
scandalously lax game-protection laws, and the vast apathy of the American
public. He waged the "Plume Wars" against the feathered-hat industry and is
credited with having saved both the Alaskan fur seal and the American bison from
Mr. Hornaday's War restores this major figure
to his rightful place as one of the giants of the modern conservation movement.
But Stefan Bechtel also explores the grinding contradictions of Hornaday's life.
Though he crusaded against the wholesale slaughter of wildlife, he was at one
time a trophy hunter, and what happened in 1906 at the Bronx Zoo, when Hornaday
displayed an African man in an "ethnographic exhibit," shows a side of him that
is as baffling as it is repellent. This gripping book takes an honest look at a
fascinating, enigmatic man who both represented and transcended his era's
paradoxical approach to wildlife, and who profoundly changed the course of the
conservation movement for generations to come."