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Book Cover Image: The Tiger by John VaillantTitle: The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival

Author: John Vaillant

Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books):

“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.”

Thoughts: The Tiger is an immensely fascinating study of tigers in the taiga of Siberia, focusing closely on the true-life drama of a man-eating tiger that terrorized the area in 1997. Delving deeply into the psychology, political and socio-economic factors of the humans who populated the region, Mr. Vaillant portrays as accurate and clear an image of what occurred during that snowy and bitterly cold December as possible. Any reader of The Tiger will walk away from the novel have a better appreciation for these magnificent animals and the delicate balance required to keep them in existence.

Mr. Vaillant excels at showcasing the true danger to the natural world. Tigers are known throughout history for being ferocious, extremely dangerous, and absolutely lethal. Yet, humans have always held a fascination for that which most terrifies us. Tigers are no exception. For generations, tigers have been hunted to the brink of extinction because of fear and the desire to prove one’s manhood as much as the black market needs. Tiger populations have been decimated over the past several decades, proving that as fearsome as these animals are, humans are the more lethal of the two.

One cannot read The Tiger and not walk away with a better appreciation for tigers and, more importantly, for the need to protect these magnificent animals. As dangerous as they are, their impact on the food chain cannot be denied, and our world would be a poorer place without them. Much of what afflicts the tiger in the story is a result of direct contact with humans, and a reader is not hard-pressed to imagine how different the story might have ended had the tiger been ignored by all humans from the very first. Mr. Vaillant does not hide a tiger’s potential for lethal conduct but showcases how important they are to the taiga and how humans for hundreds of thousands of years have been able to live side-by-side with them in spite of the danger. If anything, The Tiger ends on a note of hope, as the tiger’s ability to adapt and survive has been proven over the years, and with a little help from humans, can recover and continue to grace this Earth.

Extremely well-written, The Tiger will attract readers of multiple genres. While The Tiger is nonfiction, the descriptions and pacing reads more like a suspense novel. Mr. Vaillant takes his time introducing each character and setting the scene to build tension for the final showdown between tiger and man. It is a thrilling glimpse into a world that is foreign and remote to all but a select, hardy few and well worth the read for the chance to better understand these gorgeous animals.

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