The Wolf is absolutely incredible! I highly, HIGHLY recommend it, especially for animal lovers. Nate Blakeslee does a great job crafting a true-to-life drama around the wolves in Yellowstone, particularly a kick-ass female wolf named Oh-Six. This is by far the best book I’ve read a long time (I’d say the best this year, but I read it late January).
It has been touted as “Game of Thrones, but with wolves,” and certainly, there is something of Khaleesi’s kickassery in Oh-Six. I loved reading about how she started her own pack after being turned away by the other packs in Yellowstone. There’s a great passage where Blakeslee talks about how she entices a couple of young male wolves over to her, and how she peed against a tree to mark her territory and they both peed on the same spot to mark themselves as hers. I also loved reading about the wars for territory, with Oh-Six’s pack going up against other, sometimes more established packs, and how things like illness can totally shift the power dynamic. I especially love that while Oh-Six is clearly the heroine of the book, Blakeslee also talks about some of the other packs and animals in the area, giving us a broad brush picture of what life in Yellowstone is like.
Blakeslee creates almost a political thriller out of a nature documentary, and manages to do so without anthropomorphizing the wolves at all. I feel like I learned so much about wolves from this book, for example, that it’s actually very dangerous to be a lone wolf, because it makes you a target for other packs.
One of the biggest threats Oh-Six and the other wolves face is hunters. I have very strong views on hunting, and Blakeslee’s own opinion comes through fairly clearly, but I like how he takes care to present a balanced view. Most notably, he points out the families who live in the area and depend on elk meat for food and ranchers who raise livestock, and how both lifestyles are threatened by wolves who eat the elk and the livestock, and in one particularly sad scene, traumatized a pet dog.
But hunting for trophies still boils my blood, and the central hunter in this book is utterly unapologetic about what he does. What gets me the most is that without human intervention, the wolves and elks and bears all settle into a nice, balanced symbiosis, where they’re killing each other for food, but at least at a reasonable number which keeps their populations more or less steady. The reason wolves and other animals are becoming endangered is because of the human hunters who upset the delicate balance. So ugh.
Since this is basically a biography of Oh-Six, the book’s ending can be expected to align with her own demise. The circumstances around her death were tragic, but I’m SO GLAD it led to some changes in legislation and an increased awareness of wolf welfare.
I cannot recommend this book enough, particularly if you love animals, nature documentaries or stories about wildlife. I absolutely loved it and now I’m hungry for more and similar stories. John Vaillant’s The Tiger is on my radar, and I’m open for more suggestions!
This book is also published under the title American Wolf, though at the publisher’s Fall Preview, they said the Yellowstone wolves are actually Canadian, and were imported into Yellowstone to repopulate the area.
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.