Synopses & Reviews
It's December 1997, and a man-eating tiger is on the prowl outside a remote village in Russia's Far East. The tiger isn't just killing people, it's annihilating them, and a team of men and their dogs must hunt it on foot through the forest in the brutal cold. As the trackers sift through the gruesome remains of the victims, they discover that these attacks aren't random: the tiger is apparently engaged in a vendetta. Injured, starving, and extremely dangerous, the tiger must be found before it strikes again.
As he re-creates these extraordinary events, John Vaillant gives us an unforgettable portrait of this spectacularly beautiful and mysterious region. We meet the native tribes who for centuries have worshiped and lived alongside tigers, even sharing their kills with them. We witness the arrival of Russian settlers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, soldiers and hunters who greatly diminished the tiger populations. And we come to know their descendants, who, crushed by poverty, have turned to poaching and further upset the natural balance of the region.
This ancient, tenuous relationship between man and predator is at the very heart of this remarkable book. Throughout we encounter surprising theories of how humans and tigers may have evolved to coexist, how we may have developed as scavengers rather than hunters, and how early Homo sapiens may have fit seamlessly into the tiger's ecosystem. Above all, we come to understand the endangered Siberian tiger, a highly intelligent super-predator that can grow to ten feet long, weigh more than six hundred pounds, and range daily over vast territories of forest and mountain.
Beautifully written and deeply informative, The Tiger circles around three main characters: Vladimir Markov, a poacher killed by the tiger; Yuri Trush, the lead tracker; and the tiger himself. It is an absolutely gripping tale of man and nature that leads inexorably to a final showdown in a clearing deep in the taiga.
“Magnificent....Suspenseful....The Tiger offers readers a shiver-inducing portrait of a predator.” San Francisco Chronicle
“A masterpiece....What elevates The Tiger from adventure yarn to nonfiction classic is Vaillant’s mastery of language.” Outside
“[A] riveting story....Vaillant’s book teaches a lesson that humankind desperately needs to remember: When you murder a tiger, you not only kill a strong and beautiful beast, you extinguish a passionate soul.” Washington Post
“[An] epic story....A travelogue about tiger poaching in Russia’s far east opens up a new genre....[the] conservation thriller." Nature
“If ever a nonfiction author has used the techniques of fiction any better to recount a real-life narrative, it is difficult to imagine who that author would be....Think of Vaillant as a younger version of John McPhee, but on steroids.” The Seattle Times
A gripping story of man pitted against nature’s most fearsome and efficient predator.
Outside a remote village in Russia’s Far East a man-eating tiger is on the prowl. The tiger isn’t just killing people, it’s murdering them, almost as if it has a vendetta. A team of trackers is dispatched to hunt down the tiger before it strikes again. They know the creature is cunning, injured, and starving, making it even more dangerous. As John Vaillant re-creates these extraordinary events, he gives us an unforgettable and masterful work of narrative nonfiction that combines a riveting portrait of a stark and mysterious region of the world and its people, with the natural history of nature’s most deadly predator.
Acclaimed nature writer Rick Bass takes us on a journey into the Namib Desert to follow a group of poachers-turned-conservationists as they track the endangered black rhinos through their ancient and harsh African homeland.
“An extraordinary exploration and meditation . . . [Bass] transports us along on this wonder-filled tour, full of hardness and hope, into an otherworldly place that mirrors our own.” —National Geographic Traveler
Black rhinos are not actually black. They are, however, giant animals with tiny eyes, feet the diameter of laundry baskets, and horns that are prized for both their aesthetic and medicinal qualities. Until recently, these creatures were perched on the edge of extinction, their numbers dwindling as they succumbed to poachers and the ravages of civil war. Now their numbers are rising, thanks to a groundbreaking new conservation method from the Save the Rhino Trust: make sure that rhinos are worth more alive than dead.
Rick Bass, who has long worn the uneasy mantle of both activist and hunter, traveled to Namibia to find black rhinos. The tale of his journey provides a deeper understanding of these amazing animals and of just what needs to be done to protect them.
“Bass provides a singularly thoughtful portrait of a unique animal, and a meditation on mankind’s relationship to both it and the natural world as a whole.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
About the Author
John Vaillant's first book was the national bestseller The Golden Spruce, which won the Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction, as well as several other awards. He has written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Outside, National Geographic and The Walrus, among other publications. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, with his wife and children.
Table of Contents
Part I: Pastoral 1
Part II: Wild 77
Part III: Dust 197
Reading Group Guide
1. The Tiger
is a riveting book, with the momentum of a thriller and the depth of insight of an extended philosophical meditation. How does Vaillant create suspense throughout the book? What are the major insights he offers about tigers and the larger issues that come into focus through his investigation of the killing of Vladimir Markov?
2. What historical forces have contributed to the desperate conditions facing the people of the Primorye? How understandable/forgivable is their poaching?
3. Vaillant writes: “What is amazing—and also terrifying about tigers—is their facility for what can only be described as abstract thinking. Very quickly, a tiger can assimilate new information . . . ascribe it to a source, and even a motive, and react accordingly” [p. 136]. In what ways does the tiger that kills Markov engage in abstract thinking?
4. Does Markov deserve the fate that befalls him? Is it fair to say that he brought on his own death by stealing the tiger’s kill or by shooting at the tiger?
5. What kind of man is Yuri Trush? In what ways is he both fierce and thoughtful, authoritarian and at the same time sensitive to the desperation that makes people of the Primorye break the law? How does his experience with the tiger change him?
6. Vaillant attributes the attitude of entitlement of Russian homesteaders, at least in part, to biblical injunctions: “1: Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth. 2: And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth . . . . 3: Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things” [p. 150]. What are the consequences of this way of viewing our relationship to the earth and other animals?
7. Chapter 18 begins with a epigraph from Moby-Dick. What are the parallels between Trush’s hunt for the tiger and Ahab’s pursuit of the whale and between the behavior of the tiger and that the whale in these stories?
8. After he helps to kill the tiger, native people tell Trush he’s now marked by it, that he now bears, as Vaillant puts it, “some ineffable taint, discernible only to tigers” [p. 290]. When an otherwise tame and placid tiger tries to attack him at a wildlife rehabilitation center, Trush wonders if “some sort of a bio field exists . . . . Maybe tigers can feel some connection through the cosmos, or have some common language. I don’t know. I can’t explain it” [p. 291]. Is this merely a fanciful conjecture, or could it be true that tigers can sense the presence of someone who has killed one of their kind? If true, how would it change our views of animal consciousness?
9. Vaillant suggests that, like captive tigers, most of us “live how and where we do because, at some point in the recent past, we were forced out of our former habitats and ways of living by more aggressive, if not better adapted, humans. Worth asking here is: Where does this trend ultimately lead? Is there a better way to honor the fact that we survived?” [p. 298]. How might these questions be answered?
10. Vaillant argues that “by mass-producing food, energy, material goods, and ourselves, we have attempted to secede from, and override, the natural order” [p. 304]. What are the consequences of this desire to separate ourselves from nature?
11. What makes tigers both so frightening and so fascinating? What mythic value do they have for humans? In what ways are they an important part of the ecosystem?
12. What does the book as a whole suggest about our relationship to nature, particularly to the animals that share the earth with us?
13. It is a precarious time, not just for the Amur tiger, but for all tigers. Poaching and the destruction of tiger habitat pose major challenges to the survival of the species. What would be the significance of the loss of the tiger? What positive steps have been taken to protect it?
14. What changes in human behavior need to happen in order to preserve the (Amur) tiger and similar species? How likely is it that humans will make such changes?
(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit: www.readinggroupcenter.com.)
The introduction, discussion questions, and suggested further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of John Vaillant’s arresting account of the hunt for a man-eating tiger in Russia’s most diverse forest.