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MR. HORNADAY'S WAR by Stefan Bechtel


How a Peculiar Victorian Zookeeper Waged a Lonely Crusade for Wildlife that Changed the World

by Stefan Bechtel

Pub Date: May 15th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-8070-0635-1
Publisher: Beacon Press

A biography of a man whose life was intertwined with the conservation movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Starting with William Temple Hornaday’s (1854–1937) discovery that the American buffalo were being hunted to extinction, Men’s Health founding editor Bechtel (Roar of the Heavens, 2007, etc.) tells the story of Hornaday’s life and how he became the man who would bring the buffalo back to the prairies. Raised on a farm in Indiana, Hornaday was exposed to taxidermy early in his life and pursued a career in that field through his teen and college years. After landing a job in a museum, he decided, at age 19, to mount his first expedition to obtain exotic animals. Trips to Florida, South America, India and Borneo made Hornaday a minor celebrity adventurer and helped him land a job at the Smithsonian and eventually as the director of the Bronx Zoo. Bechtel focuses mainly on Hornaday’s conservation work, using his childhood, taxidermy work and expeditions to show how he became interested in the movement. Many of the passages about conservation are repetitive, and Bechtel’s tone varies as he clearly struggles with his admiration for Hornaday’s efforts to preserve wildlife and his misgivings about the hunting of animals for display. While there is a short section on his work to save seals and a larger section on birds, the focus frequently returns to Hornaday’s work with the buffalo. Bechtel’s passion for his subject makes the book an interesting and enjoyable though occasionally preachy read.

The book will appeal to readers curious about the beginning of wildlife conservation in America, but it won’t provide much new information to serious Hornaday fans who have already read his own accounts of these exploits.