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This Is Why I Love Nonfiction, “The Tiger” by John Vaillant

I just finished “The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival” by John Vaillant in my journey through this year’s American Library Association Notable Books list. It’s a perfect example of great nonfiction, and perhaps also of a nonfiction book that many fiction readers would enjoy.

On the one hand, it’s the story of an Amur tiger in present-day Siberia, a tiger who has taken to attacking men. And now the tiger is being tracked.

On the other hand, it’s the story of Siberia, its geography, history, and culture, especially in terms of how the area has changed for wildlife.

And (would that be the third hand?) it’s the story of each man touched by the tiger, as well as those men who join together in the hunt.

Vaillant manages to weave all of this together without losing the narrative thread.

I learned a lot about tigers, of course, but also about the interesting cultural crucible that is Siberia. Plenty of native people live there, along with  Russians and others. Their various views of the role of people within nature, combined with the recent history of Soviet government, rolled together with an immense nearby Chinese market, have created a place where poaching is common. It is a place where many people have next to nothing, other than their skill at the hunt.

I’ll recommend this to my friends who are intrigued by science, who are interested in the environment, who maybe have a particular interest in this part of the world, or who are just up for a fresh way of seeing a place, through the eyes of this remarkable tiger.

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