An encyclopedic, multigenerational chronicle examines a family’s extraordinary contributions to wildlife biology, conservation, and nature literature.
What the Kennedys are to politics, the less-famous Craigheads are to nature—a prolific and accomplished clan. Benjey (Doctors, Lawyers, Indian Chiefs, 2011, etc.) traces their ancestry to Scottish-Irish immigrants who settled in central Pennsylvania in 1733. In 1868, a railroad bisected the family farm. A great-great grandson built a depot, Craighead Station, and started grain, lumber, and coal businesses. A mansion, still standing by Yellow Breeches Creek, connected generations of Craighead children with flora and fauna. Five siblings, born between 1890 and 1903, graduated from college. Frank Craighead Sr. became a U.S. Department of Agriculture entomologist. His brother, Eugene, became a state entomologist for Pennsylvania. Frank’s twins, Frank Jr. and John, gained fame as self-taught teenage falconers. They later studied grizzlies, devised the first radio-tracking collars for large animals, and battled National Park Service bureaucrats over bear management. They wrote the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, authored National Geographic articles, and produced lectures, photographs, books, films, and television programs. Their sister, Jean Craighead George, wrote more than 100 children’s books about animals and nature. Best known are Julie of the Wolves, a Newbery Medal winner, and My Side of the Mountain, a Newbery Honor work made into a movie. Five Craigheads achieved name recognition, but Benjey approaches the family as an ecosystem, deftly covering three dozen members over three centuries. He includes a family tree (indispensable) and a useful index and endnotes. Largely chronological, the book alternates between sections following entire generations through decades and chapters highlighting key individuals or topics. Benjey displays prodigious research skills and enthusiastic storytelling. With extensive family cooperation, he weaves interviews, letters, school yearbooks, family photos, and public records into such detailed scenes that he seems to have been present. He often sounds like a Craighead. Granular details about extended family members occasionally tread close to tedium, but overall, this comprehensive, impressive synthesis of the historical, familial, social, economic, and natural forces that created the famous Craigheads is well-told.
The author skillfully fills a scholarly, historical niche, producing an environmental and biographical work with broad popular appeal.