Tenacious Beasts: Wildlife Recoveries That Change How We Think about Animals (Hardcover)
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An inspiring look at wildlife species that are defying the odds and teaching important lessons about how to share a planet.
The news about wildlife is dire—more than 900 species have been wiped off the planet since industrialization. Against this bleak backdrop, however, there are also glimmers of hope and crucial lessons to be learned from animals that have defied global trends toward extinction. Bear in Italy, bison in North America, whales in the Atlantic. These populations are back from the brink, some of them in numbers unimaginable in a century. How has this happened? What shifts in thinking did it demand? In crisp, transporting prose, Christopher Preston reveals the mysteries and challenges at the heart of these resurgences.
Drawing on compelling personal stories from the researchers, Indigenous people, and activists who know the creatures best, Preston weaves together a gripping narrative of how some species are taking back vital, ecological roles. Each section of the book—farms, prairies, rivers, forests, oceans—offers a philosophical shift in how humans ought to think about animals, passionately advocating for the changes in attitude necessary for wildlife recovery.
Tenacious Beasts is quintessential nature writing for the Anthropocene, touching on different facets of ecological restoration from Indigenous knowledge to rewilding practices. More important, perhaps, the book offers a road map—and a measure of hope—for a future in which humans and animals can once again coexist.
About the Author
Christopher Preston’s essays have appeared in the Atlantic, Smithsonian, and Aeon, and on the BBC website. He is author of The Synthetic Age (MIT Press). He teaches environmental philosophy at the University of Montana and lives in Missoula, MT.
Included in the New Yorker's "Best Books of the Week, 2023" list
"The occasional resurgences of animal populations in an era of mass extinction are the subject of this lively study, by a journalist and professor of environmental philosophy. Despite widespread depredation, some species, from wolves in densely populated Central Europe to beavers in the polluted Potomac to whales in the Gulf of Alaska, have staged dramatic comebacks. Preston focusses much of his reporting on wildlife scientists and Indigenous activists, arguing that these recoveries—and the ecological restorations they engender—demonstrate that the flourishing of other species is 'integral to our shared future.” In cases where conditions are right, degraded landscapes can be revitalized through the combination of thoughtful environmental practices and animals’ natural capacities.'"
—the New Yorker
“[A] page-turning account…Many animals headed for extinction are recovering nicely, writes science writer and teacher Preston, who delivers a satisfying account of a dozen successes without minimizing the difficulties involved… Traveling the world, Preston interacted with researchers, activists, and Indigenous people working to restore animals to their former ecosystems, most of which now contain far more humans than before…Rare, well-delivered positive news about animals and the natural world.”
—Kirkus Reviews, recipient of a Kirkus Star
"Preston writes with the goal of highlighting promising partnerships, building on lessons learned from animals themselves, and questioning long-held beliefs about wildlife and conservation...This makes for an excellent recommendation to readers searching for thoughtful but hopeful books on the future of nature.”
—Library Journal, recipient of a starred review
"The extinction crisis tends to draw our focus toward alarming statistics: rapid habitat loss, increasing pollution, and more endangered species on the edge. Less often do we consider the positive stories that still abound: wolf recovery in the Netherlands after they were extirpated by farmers; bison on the rebound on tribal lands generations after their slaughter by white settlers. These stories take center stage in Tenacious Beasts: Wildlife Recoveries That Change How We Think About Animals. Beyond basic good news though, environmental philosopher Christopher J. Preston is after something more profound: the adaptive potential and resiliency of life on Earth. While offering buoying examples of species recovery, Preston unpacks and disavows some of our most common and problematic cultural conceptions of wild animals."
“In this rewarding study, environmental philosophy professor Preston (The Synthetic Age) provides reason to be hopeful about endangered species...The surprisingly intimate accounts of species bouncing back from the brink of extinction serve as glimmers of hope against the backdrop of climate despair. This will hearten nature lovers.”
"Humans and domestic animals make up 96% of the mass of the world’s mammals. The outlook for wildlife “remains dire”, writes philosopher Christopher Preston. But he describes signs of hope in his well-travelled, thoughtful study of recoveries. Populations of humpback whales in the western Indian Ocean have surged since the mid-twentieth century; those of Californian black bears have quadrupled in a few decades. He visits farmland, prairie, river, forest and ocean, exploring why only certain species are recovering."
"Christopher Preston’s Tenacious Beasts: Wildlife Recoveries That Change How We Think about Animals skyrockets off the opening pages more like a heart-pounding thriller than an academic treatise on the future of the planet. Preston’s prose makes it clear that the University of Montana wildlife philosophy professor is no ivory tower elitist writing about a real world he doesn’t actually know. He is instead a boots-on-the-ground storyteller whose book opens with an account of a Dutch wolf killed by gunshots – prompting Holland’s government to strengthen its support for wolf recovery efforts. The whodunit leads to the first of many gauntlets the author throws down to us as readers, and as people who share the earth with wildlife."
"Pragmatic and inspirational, Tenacious Beasts celebrates the species that “exist in the same bewildering net of life and time as we do,” yet are rebounding."
"Preston’s fascinating book is not only about the very precarious state of countless endangered species, but also about how evolution is fighting back against mankind’s over-exploitation and destruction: how animal species are recovering from these devastating diminishments.”
“Each chapter in Tenacious Beasts presents a new way to think about wildlife and preservation. But throughout the book, Preston consistently comes back to the way we separate ourselves from the natural history around us, asking how necessary that separation is. Many questions arise in the process: Can we, as a species, be humble enough to recognize the brilliance of nature beyond ourselves, and to treat what is around us as a partner rather than something to simply extract from or reengineer? Do we possess the empathy to listen to the often neglected and underrepresented voices in such global issues as conservation?
"This is a fascinating and uplifting book...he’s an extremely engaging guide to the philosophical complexities of conservation and his general optimism about the natural world’s future is refreshing."
"The University of Montana professor draws impressively on his environmental philosophy chops."
—The Washington Independent Review of Books
The outlook for wildlife “remains dire”, writes philosopher Christopher Preston. But he describes signs of hope in his well-travelled, thoughtful study of recoveries.
"Preston’s book is a compelling step toward a different approach to conserving wildlife, one that takes seriously ideas of reciprocity and partnership. Compared to the traditional human/nature binary, it’s a less lonely story, highlighting the wonder of interconnection. It’s also more hopeful one, allowing a positive role for humanity. Rather than maintain a static vision of untouched wilderness—impossible, anyway, when human-caused climate is impacting every living creature—we can focus on what actually works.”
“In the midst of ecological crisis, Preston brings genuinely good news: a few of our fellow species are not only thriving, but demanding that we do better by the rest of life on Earth.”
—Michelle Nijhuis, author of Beloved Beasts
“What a joy this book is! Fascinating, intelligent, pragmatic, and moving. Preston’s tenacious beasts show us how to live with nature and claim a more hopeful future for our planet.”
—Isabella Tree, author of Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm
“Preston shows that many species that once seemed doomed have posted surprising recoveries. All they ask is a fighting chance to survive; all I ask is that you read this book.”
—Carl Safina, author of Becoming Wild and Beyond Words
“With grace and good cheer, Tenacious Beasts recounts the messy, fitful recovery of iconic creatures and the conservation approaches making their return possible. Preston offers vital insight to preserve biodiversity on our troubled, glorious planet.”
—Ben Goldfarb, author of Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter
"Preston has achieved something remarkable: a fascinating synthesis of storytelling and science, reporting and philosophy to probe wildlife–human successes, distilling from them an understanding of how they were made possible by shifts in human perspectives."
—Peter Stark, author of Astoria: Astor and Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire
“A captivating and astute understanding of how wild animals conduct their lives."
—Rick McIntyre, author of The Alpha Wolves of Yellowstone series