Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Monster of God, by David Quammen, has one big theme with two meanings. You can read it as a eulogy for big, dangerous animals that humans have run almost to extinction, or you can read it as a requiem for human frailty, our humility, and our willingness to live as if we wanted to pass on a good Earth to our children. Whichever way you take it, you should read it, and also check out the excellent study guide available on this website. I also strongly suggest you read George Monbiot's book Feral. It's a good companion to Quammen's book, and in a way, it's an antidote to it.
Big predators—things that can eat people if we get in their way—are on the way out. That's mostly due to human activity, writes Quammen. Destruction of habitats from sprawl, climate change, or agriculture, greed for exotica, hunting by thrill-seekers, and plain murder by poachers are all taking their toll on the lions, tigers, bears, and crocodiles that kept humans in their place on the food chain for millennia. Then we developed guns, Jeeps, helicopters, and computers, and as a species, we got rich. Money, tools, and hubris are killing the planet, and the disappearance of large carnivores is just another symptom that we're pushing the ecosystem's carrying capacity.
That hubris is the root of all the evil in the book, and the clue is in the title. These aren't monsters of your dreams: they're monsters of God, who, in the Book of Genesis, gave humankind dominion over animals. We believe this so strongly that we play God with them, killing them in numbers and with indifference that goes way beyond the stewardship that was supposedly enjoined on the first humans in the biblical story of early man. You can read this as a parable. See what you've done, and in it read the telling of your own extinction. That's not Quammen's explicit message, but you don't have to look too hard to find it.