In Review

In Review

The Grizzly Maze, book jacket

The Grizzly Maze: Timothy Treadwell’s Fatal Obsession with Alaskan Bears
Nick Jans
Dutton Publishing, 2005

Unless you’ve been in hibernation, you probably know that in October of 2003, self-proclaimed bear expert Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend Amie Hueguenard were fatally mauled by grizzlies in Alaska’s Katmai National Park. Treadwell’s life and death have been documented in the Werner Herzog film The Grizzly Man, a Vanity Fair article, a “PrimeTime” segment, and in other media.

So how do you write a story when everyone already knows how it ends? In The Grizzly Maze, Nick Jans does not show an answer to this problem. This book is easier to enter than to exit. By page 112 of this 274-page book, the final chapter of Treadwell’s life has already ended. With the protagonist out of the picture so early, the second half of the book drags at a rather excruciating pace. Jans pads his tale with information about the behavioral differences of black and brown bears, how to store your food when camping, and his own experiences with grizzlies. Related information, but hardly captivating, especially since Jans often covers ground that he’s already covered.

Jans misses the most fascinating aspect of the tale, which, of course, is Treadwell himself. What made him tick? Why would a man leave the comfort of his California home every summer for 13 years to rough it in the Alaskan wilds in such close proximity to one of North America’s most powerful and dangerous creatures? How did he actually manage to co-exist with the bears for 13 years? You’ll be no closer to such insight into Treadwell’s psyche after reading this book than you are now.

You should, however, be better able to form an opinion on Treadwell’s chosen avocation as environmentalist and protector of bears, a move that created controversy before and after his death. There are those who contend that Treadwell’s presence among the bears was vital for their safety. Others assert that Treadwell was a detriment to the animals’ welfare, and that his annual treks ultimately did more harm than good. Jans gives time to representatives from both camps. Unfortunately, he does so in a manner that is wildly erratic and disorganized, not only chronologically, but also thematically and stylistically. Add a handful of boring photos of such subjects as a park closure sign and a cleared campsite, embarrassingly amateurish sketches of the attack site and the Alaskan coastline, and the result is a bumpy, poorly edited book that barely does justice to such an exciting topic.

– Audrey Webb

The Ocean and Coastal Conservation Guide, book jacket

The Ocean and Coastal Conservation Guide (2005–2006)
David Helvarg, editor
Island Press, 2005

This is the ocean decade. Hundreds of groups have sprung up across the United States to work on marine issues, from local watershed- and coast-protection groups, to networks working on issues such as coral reef protection or gillnetting.

The Ocean and Coastal Conservation Guide is an invaluable aid to these activists, or to anyone who wants to become one.

The Guide – subtitled “The Blue Movement Directory” – is a list of more than 2,000 activist groups; federal, state, local, and tribal agencies working on marine or coastal issues; marine science schools and other educational resources; and marine parks and sanctuaries. Each entry contains a description of the group’s program area, as well as updated contact information. Compiling this valuable resource was certainly a daunting task for editor David Helvarg and his staff. A must-buy for anyone concerned with the state of the oceans.

– Chris Clarke

Honey and Dust, book jacket

Honey and Dust: Travels in Search of Sweetness
Piers Moore Ede
Bloomsbury Publishing, 2005

After a hit-and-run driver left him near death in San Francisco, Piers Moore Ede had to rebuild his life on several levels. Ede’s recovery involved healing his psyche as much as tending to life-altering physical wounds. Shattered, shaken, and feeling utterly without focus, Ede began a journey to search for reasons for his continued existence.

During a stint on an organic farm in Italy, Ede met a beekeeper who ignited his enthusiasm to visit hives around the globe. From the rooftops of New York to the cliffs of Nepal, Ede takes readers to places both familiar and exotic. The bulk of Honey and Dust details travels in the Middle East and Asia; African adventures are inexplicably missing from Ede’s travelogue.

Both storyteller and journalist, Ede cleverly integrates accounts of traditional ways of life now perilously close to extinction with humorous anecdotes of his encounters with a wide range of characters and experiences in faraway settings. Included in his fast-paced tale is the obligatory “confrontation with alarming foreign foodstuffs,” which Ede describes with such clarity as to make readers’ stomachs churn slightly on his behalf, even while chortling over the clash of cultures.

Ede has clearly done extensive research for this wonderful book, citing a wide range of factual and literary sources. He masterfully intersperses historical facts about the role of honey in various cultures with his first-hand observations of current political and sociological events affecting the lands he visits. Honey and Dust is written with Ede’s evident love for the planet and the myriad inhabitants that contribute to its vibrancy. Lamenting those changes that imperil the environment, as well as the negative impact that the increasing encroachment of Western way of life is wreaking on ancient civilizations, Ede provides readers with a bittersweet account of his adventurous quest. Thoughtful, engaging, and moving, Honey and Dust is an irresistible treat.

– Audrey Webb

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