The Wolf/American Wolf

The Wolf (Alternate title: American Wolf) Book Cover The Wolf (Alternate title: American Wolf)
Nate Blakeslee
Crown Publishing Group/Random House Canada
October 17, 2017

The intimate, involving story of the rise and reign of O-Six, the fabled Yellowstone wolf, and the people who loved or feared her. For readers of H is for Hawk, captivating works of reportage, and iconic books on the American West.

Before humans ruled the Earth, there were wolves. Once abundant in the United States, these majestic creatures were hunted to near extinction by the 1920s. But in recent decades, conservationists have brought wolves from Canada back to Yellowstone National Park, igniting a battle over the very soul of the American West.
With novelistic detail, Nate Blakeslee tells the gripping story of one of these wolves, a charismatic alpha female named O-Six. She's a kind and merciful leader, a fiercely intelligent fighter, and a doting mother. Beloved by wolf watchers, particularly Yellowstone park ranger Rick McIntyre, O-Six becomes something of a social media star, with followers around the world.
But as she raises her pups and protects her pack, O-Six is being challenged on all fronts: by hunters and their professional guides, who compete with wolves for the elk they all prize; by cattle ranchers who are losing livestock and have the ear of politicians; and by other Yellowstone wolves who resent her dominance of the stunningly beautiful Lamar Valley.
These forces collide in The Wolf, a riveting multigenerational wildlife saga that tells a larger story about the clash of values in the West--between those fighting for a vanishing way of life and those committed to restoring one of the country's most vibrant landscapes.


Wolves are an animal deeply ingrained into our culture, especially for us Westerners. Occasionally we see them portrayed positively, like in A Song of Ice and Fire, but more often they are depicted as evil like in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The wolf is commonly an animal that is either respected or hated, depending who you ask. The Wolf/American Wolf leans heavily on the pro-wolf side of that fence. In modern times this is understandable, as most wild wolves do not threaten most people today. There is a lot to be said for the history of wolves, but this book deals with a specific section of recent history in Yellowstone National Park.

The Wolf starts out with a partial history of Yellowstone, particularly the hunting season in the area. Before the mid-90’s, wolves had been long since exterminated in that area. As a result, there were a lot of elk with their main natural predator gone. Hunters could see and shoot them from the road, there were just so many. As wolf packs were reintroduced into the ecosystems, huge changes started to be seen. The elk population going down was the most blatant result, but not the only one. There was also an increase in bears, who could case wolves off and claim their kills. Also, a decrease in smaller predators, such as coyotes and foxes, who unsuccessfully tried to sneak food from wolf kills.

A good portion of The Wolf talks about wolves in general, but the main focus later turns to O-Six. Readers may remember her story from 2012, when her death made the national news. This book goes into great detail about her life from a young pup to an old, grey mother. A common sight for wolf watchers while alive, she was an extremely skilled animal; a pinnacle among wolves.

Despite being a non-fiction book, The Wolf is written as a narrative. This gave the book a sense of life that more academic texts do not possess. Even though the book is mainly about O-Six, it does address the wolf history in Yellowstone as well. The story starts before O-Six was even born, with the relocation of Canadian wolves to the park. As the narrative goes on, it talks about the legal battles in the various states around Yellowstone regarding wolf hunting. There is much more to this book than can fit in this little review and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in national parks, nature, and of course, wolves.

June 10, 2018

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