A feisty, learned look at America's dead and dying animal species. Bergman (English/Pacific Lutheran Univ.), who has written for Audubon and National Geographic, puts a philosophical spin on his investigation. Animals, he tell us, ""are only partly biological creatures. They are also symbols in which we can read who we are."" The concern, of course, is that these symbols--and thus our potential for self-understanding--are rapidly vanishing. After helicoptering to Alaska to visit a wolf den, Bergman lashes out at notions of stewardship and wildlife management (""a contradiction in terms"") and warns that ""we have forgotten what animals mean."" In Florida, he eyes the few surviving dusky seaside sparrows, encaged at Disney World (the species has become extinct since his 1986 visit). He interviews scientists scrambling to maintain a small wild population of California condors; trees a Florida panther; trails West Indian manatees wounded by outboard motors; chases down black-footed ferrets, right whales, trumpeter swans, and Puerto Rican parrots. Plentiful references to Keats, Catullus, St. Ambrose, Frost, Audubon, and scores of other writers and thinkers help bolster both his on-site reports and his intention to ""re-create animals, by learning to reimagine them and our world."" Beautifully composed natural history, with three excellent appendices: a partial (but shockingly long) list of US extinctions, a huge directory of ecological organizations, and 26 pages of annotated bibliography. Except for occasional preachiness (""more is at stake in saving a wild wolf than we realize""), simply superb.