Monster of God

by David Quammen

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Because the book is non-fiction, Monster of God cannot strictly be said to have “characters.” Nevertheless, David Quammen presents numerous real individuals and groups so vividly that the reader comes to know them much as they would know fictional characters.

In his quest to understand nonhuman and human “alpha predators,” Quammen takes the reader to several important locations where such predators live; some are thriving, others are endangered. Understandably, in the places where human predators prevail, the nonhuman predators have accordingly declined.

The lion, Panthera leo, is the first such predator about which Quammen writes at length. One place lions survive is in the Gir forest area, in Gujarat, India, where they coexist with Maldari communities along the edges of the forest preserve. The reader meets Dr. Ravi Chellam, a biologist at the Wildlife Institute of India, who is an expert on lions. Quammen also introduces Muhammad Juma, a tracker who grew up in the area and locates and follows the lions. Historical figures such as the Viceroy Lord Curzon, who enjoyed hunting lions, also come to life in this book.

In Australia, Quammen looked for Crocodylus porosus, the salt-water crocodile. Here, his guide was Jackie Adjarral, who took him through a park in Arnhem Land. In another area, where the crocodile lives among the indigenous Yolngu people, who call it “Bäru,” Dulu appears, telling Quammen how he and his brother survived the giant reptile’s attack.

One of the predators who emerges clearly (although by the time Quammen went to his country he had already died) is Nicolae Ceausescu, the dictator of Romania. As an avid hunter, Ceausescu promoted the maintenance of hunting areas and the population growth of brown bears so that he could shoot them. The reader also meets a biologist specializing in changes to the bear management techniques away from releasing unprepared cubs into the wild.

In the Siberian area of Russia lives a tiger known locally as Amba. In the Bikin valley, the tiger specialist Dima Pikunov details the often frustrating job of tracking the elusive tiger by its signs, such as prints and the animals killed, rarely seeing the tiger itself. Contrasting perspectives on hunting and the tiger’s spiritual value are offered by elderly hunters Su-San Tyfuivich Geonka and Nikolai Alexsandrovich Semonchuk.

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