American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee is the most recent read in my effort to get through all the books I irresponsibly got via NetGalley last year and never read. Essentially, it’s the story of the wolf in America, focusing on “recent” events since the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in 1995. The book follows the lives of the wolves, as chronicled by a handful of avid (or obsessed?) wolf-watchers in the park over many years, as well as the political, cultural, and societal factors that impact wolves’ survival in the American West.
The most gripping parts of the book are Blakeslee’s reporting on the life of O-Six, a female wolf born in 2006 in the park. He succeeds in telling a gripping story of life and survival for wolves as they face both natural and man-made threats. It reads almost like a novel, and definitely paints a vivid picture of wolf society. I learned so much about wolves, the evolution of individual wolf packs, and the social interactions of what are clearly very intelligent and emotional animals.
Woven into the story is the political, societal, and legal context in which the wolf reintroduction and population management unfolded. It was interesting to read about the events through the 2000s and to understand how events I lived through (sequestration and the 2011 threat of a government shutdown, followed by an actual shutdown in 2013) impacted things across the country. It’s disturbing and yet unsurprising, especially having lived my entire adult life in the DC area, to read of the political nonsense–riders circumventing legal protections for wolves tacked on last minute to a must-pass spending bill in 2011, for example.
I couldn’t help but root for the wolves as I read the book, while I understand the legitimate concerns of residents of areas surrounding Yellowstone as they coped with rising wolf populations. I’m glad I read the book, and sorry it took me so long to actually pick it up to read. I give the book 4 stars, only subtracting one because I feel it starts out a little slowly and took some effort to get into. Persevere, though! It’s worth it!