Monday, November 17, 2008

REVIEW: American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon

Title: American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon
Author: Steven Rinella
ISBN: 9780385521680/Spiegel & Grau
Memoirs, ARC
Rating: B

First Line: In the past week I've become something of a buffalo chip connoisseur.

When most people are asked to name the first visual image that comes to mind when someone says, "America", I would imagine that the bald eagle or the Statue of Liberty is at the top of many lists. They aren't my first choices. My first choice is the buffalo. When I was ten, my grandparents took my mother and me on a road trip across the country to Grass Valley, California. I will never forget coming over a rise outside of Cody, Wyoming, and seeing a herd of buffalo grazing out on the prairie. That has been one of the supreme Kodak Moments of my life.

Steven Rinella is also fascinated with buffalo. In 2005, he won a lottery to hunt for a wild buffalo in the Alaskan wilderness. One of only four hunters who succeeded in killing one, he found himself contemplating his place among 14,000 years' worth of North American buffalo hunters and the place of the buffalo in the American consciousness. The result is this book.

Not only is this book a memoir of that hunt, it is also filled with humor, anxiety, and fascinating facts about buffalo. From time to time, I found the transitions between buffalo lore and his hunt in Alaska to be a bit abrupt, but it didn't lessen my enjoyment of the book. I have to admit that I chose to read American Buffalo with a bit of trepidation: although I grew up hunting with my grandfather, the only type I do now is behind the lens of my camera. I wondered why, if Rinella is so fascinated with them, he would choose to kill one. It is a question that he raises himself in his book, and I appreciated the answer.

After reading American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon, not only do I know a lot more about the creatures that so catch my imagination, I also know more about the rigors of camping and hunting in the Alaskan wilderness. It's also reminded me that there's a herd of wild buffalo at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I really want to see them!


  1. The first line is hilarious and would draw me in.

  2. I will have to find this book. It sounds so interesting. Living in Wyoming, and having a few fenced buffalo at the state park 5 miles from my house makes me even more interested in the subject.

  3. I remember when you first posted about getting this book - I'm so glad you enjoyed it as much as you did ... now get up to the Grand Canyon and see the buffalo!


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