Natural World Reflections Book Reviews

Heart of a Lion: A Lone Cat's Walk Across America
by William Stolzenburg
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Published: October 2013
Print Pages: 256
Language: English
ISBN: 978-1620405529

Review by: L. G.Cullens on Sept. 28, 2016

This is superbly written, journalistic style non-fiction, rendering a mountain lion's journey from the Black Hills of South Dakota to the Connecticut coast, but that's only the glue that holds this exceptional work together. Avoiding sensationalistic and preachy  writing, this book is an engrossing, fully researched, well-balanced presentation of facts, complemented with juxtaposition of  perspectives relative to predators. In other words, beyond immersive reading, this book has the potential to broaden understanding. 

Oh, he details the ill-fated adventures of big cats and other predators, and addresses the reasons why they undertake such journeys, but additionally he shows rare insight into the minds of their adversaries such as:

"From the first teetering steps to the inimitable cocky stride in humanity’s six-million-year journey— from tree-dwelling, knuckle-walking offshoot of an African ape, to bipedal globe-trotting pedestrian of the world— had come uncounted sidetracks and detours through the bellies of big cats. Being hunted was a fact of early life that forever shaped the growing brains and bodies of the people who would come to be."

And their supporters such as:

"Whether eastward from the Rockies or northward from the Florida swamps, the exiled eastern cougar would need help coming home. The rewilders’ pleas for civility and compassion obviously weren’t cutting it. But their cause had lately embraced yet a more ecological rationale for why the East so needed its big cat back. 

The murmur had been gathering from field sites and conference halls, formally surfacing in academic journals and publicized in mainstream media. Researchers from around the world were returning with disquieting reports of forests dying, coral reefs collapsing, pests and plagues irrupting. Beyond the bulldozers and the polluters and the usual cast of suspects, a more insidious factor had entered the equation. It was becoming ever more apparent that the extermination of the earth’s apex predators— the lions and wolves of the land, the great sharks and big fish of the sea, all so vehemently swept aside in humanity’s global swarming— had triggered a cascade of ecological consequences. Where the predators no longer hunted, their prey had run amok, amassing at freakish densities, crowding out competing species, denuding landscapes and seascapes as they went."

This together with chronicled transitions in thinking by involved individuals, exemplifies the potential of critical thinking.  One example being Aldo Leopold's journey from advocating well managed stark forestlands, to recognizing the vibrancy and greater productivity of forestlands with a naturally occurring full complement of biodiversity.

This isn't a book a thoughtful person will soon forget. With the breadth of reasoning it encompasses, the reader will find themselves wondering how human potential will play out in a setting of self-destructive proclivities.

In our haste to overcome Nature have we gone too far, or is this simply evolving ecology? The author makes a fair case for both, leaving the reader to exercise critical thinking.

The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.” ~ Edwin Schlossberg