Mr. Hornaday’s War

mr-hornadays-war-stefan-betchtel-victorian-zoo-keeperWhen he appears in history, William Temple Hornaday almost always shows up in sentences that include names like Teddy Roosevelt or Gifford Pinchot.

Despite the impressive rhythms of his name, Hornaday belongs there not by birth—he was an Iowa farm boy orphaned at 14—but because of the battles he waged with aristocrats on behalf of conservation and wildlife, and because he joined them as writers of memorable books.  Hornaday’s most famous today is 1889’s The Extermination of the American Bison. As the first director of the Bronx Zoo, cofounder of the American Bison Society, a naturalist/hunter and a prototypal environmental activist, Hornaday is worth a new biography.  I just wish this book by Stefan Bechtel ( was better.  Bechtel is a good, if breathless, storyteller, and he does not whitewash Hornaday’s elitism. But he also does not have the sensibilities of a historian—he invents dialogue and is not quite up-to-date on the bison story at the heart of this book.

—Dan Flores, author of The Natural West: Environmental History in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains

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