Synopses & Reviews
When residents of Boulder, Colorado, suddenly began to see mountain lions in their backyards, it became clear that the cats had returned after decades of bounty hunting had driven them far from human settlement. In a riveting environmental tale that has received huge national attention, journalist David Baron traces the history of the mountain lion and chronicles one town's tragic effort to coexist with its new neighbors.
As thought-provoking as it is harrowing, The Beast in the Garden is a tale of nature corrupted, the clash between civilization and wildness, and the artificiality of the modern American landscape. It is, ultimately, a book about the future of our nation, where suburban sprawl and wildlife-protection laws are pushing people and wild animals into uncomfortable, sometimes deadly proximity.
"Culture. Habituation. Averse conditioning. Learned behaviors. These are terms of anthropology, sociology, psychology, and behavioralism. These social sciences examine human beings—how they live, how they create social structure, how they learn, how they act. It is the ultimate biology of humanity. Do we apply these same studies to cougars and other large predators the same way? Probably not, David Baron thinks we ought to. Baron uses all the elements of fiction to create an exciting narrative of actual events. Both a narrator and point of view characters tell this story of cougars returning to their traditional, Front Range habitat, even though this habitat has been invaded by humans. With an overall point of view of third-person, limited omniscience, Baron builds suspense and tension through flashbacks and foreshadowing. He makes the setting a character in its own right: Boulder, Colorado is a left-liberal, preservationist city with wide-open, green spaces; its suburbs share the same sentiments, but are much closer to the frontier between civilization and wilderness. However, Beast in the Garden is neither mystery nor thriller. It is a true story, one in which neither cougars nor humans are the villains. Neither cougars nor humans are the heroes. They are only victims—the cougars of their own predatory nature and humans of their refusal to understand the food chain, their place in it, or the reality of nature. At its heart, Baron's theme remains a paradox. Americans move out to pristine suburbs, carved from wilderness. They then pay to preserve a certain degree of open space, even actual wilderness. This paradox invites wildlife to move in and acculturate to living with humans. People think of themselves as preservers and restorers of Nature, which is sweet, kind, gentle. They see Nature as an immaculate and controlled garden. Americans ignore the unpleasant reality Nature is red in tooth and claw. The consequences for this ignorance alter Nature and distance Americans from reality." Reviewed by Karen Whitehurst, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
"[C]ompelling, tightly written....Baron's journalistic background is evident; he includes a remarkable amount of human detail that makes this nonfiction account read like a true-crime thriller." Denver Post
"A gripping tale of human naiveté, misguided intentions, and conventional wisdom gone awry. It reads like a novel, but is all true." Howard Berkes, National Public Radio
"Baron's genuine interest in the topic makes The Beast in the Garden an interesting, educational read." Seattle Times
"A fascinating read." Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature
"The intelligent complexity of Baron's book is refreshing and necessary....An extraordinary achievement." Gordon Grice, author of The Red Hourglass
"In his first book, Baron, a longtime science reporter for National Public Radio, argues that there's nothing natural about the predation of Homo sapiens by cougars. Rather, humans are unwittingly teaching mountain lions to be more of a threat to us. The Beast in the Garden
is told like a whodunit, in reverse." Katharine Mieszkowski, Salon.com
(read the entire Salon.com review
The true tale of an edenic Rocky Mountain town and what transpired when a predatory species returned to its ancestral home. When, in the late 1980s, residents of Boulder, Colorado, suddenly began to see mountain lions in their yards, it became clear that the cats had repopulated the land after decades of persecution. Here, in a riveting environmental fable that recalls Peter Benchley's thriller Jaws, journalist David Baron traces the history of the mountain lion and chronicles Boulder's effort to coexist with its new neighbors. A parable for our times, The Beast in the Garden is a scientific detective story and a real-life drama, a tragic tale of the struggle between two highly evolved predators: man and beast.
"Reads like a crime novel . . . each chapter ends on a cliff-hanging note."--
About the Author
David Baron, an award-winning journalist, reports on science for National Public Radio. He lives in Boston and Boulder.