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David Quammen: Cardiologist

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By Doug Hare EBS Staff

If Yellowstone National Park is the “beating heart” of America, than you might say that David Quammen is one of our preeminent cardiologists. Quammen has a feel for the pulse of the park and his writing has a perspicuity that clearly maps out the circulatory system of the complex, untamed plateau.

When National Geographic decided to dedicate an entire issue to Yellowstone in honor of our National Park Service centennial, Quammen was asked to write the entire thing. While Quammen is a contributing editor to National Geographic and an author of numerous books including “The Song of the Dodo,” “The Boilerplate Rhino,” and most recently “The Spillover,” this was the first time in the magazine’s 128-year history that only had one author for an entire issue.

Quammen was the perfect fit. He is equally adept at science, nature and travel writing. His previous assignments have taken him to some of the most remote places on earth. Trips to the Russian Artic, the Congo or the Serengeti have given him a unique perspective on his own back yard.

Quammen lives in Bozeman and has called Montana home for more than 40 years. In his most recent book, in response to Wallace Stegner’s famous comment that national parks are the “best idea we ever had,” Quammen contends, “this ‘best’ idea had mixed origins and … it has always been a work in progress, initially vague, unforeseeably complex, continually evolving, more contentious today than ever.”

“Yellowstone: A Journey through America’s Wild Heart” is a coffee table book. It’s oversized, hard-covered and packed with images from the world’s most renowned nature photographers. While the written content of the book, mostly adapted from the National Geographic special issue, could stand alone, the interplay between stunning images of nature in abundance and Quammen’s careful dissection of issues shaping the park today are mutually reinforcing.

At once, the book celebrates the raw beauty of the dynamic landscape and digs into the conservation challenges still facing the park today.

When it was established in 1872, the idea of Yellowstone National Park was indeed a confused, somewhat inchoate, attempt to frame nature in a giant rectangle. National parks were undeniably a good idea, but we still find ourselves in a paradoxical situation of deliberately preserving nature—what Quammen calls the “the paradox of the cultivated wild”: wilderness contained, nature under management, wild animals obliged to abide by human rules.

Whether he is discussing the science behind brucellosis, the effects of reintroducing wolves, the logic behind slaughtering bison, or the unique geographic features of remote places in the park, Quammen offers us an informative, scholarly perspective while never coming across as being pedantic.

In the end, this book convincingly argues that the name “Yellowstone” refers to more than just a place where Idaho, Wyoming and Montana meet. Throughout the world, the iconic name conjures not just yellowish sandstone bluffs, geysers or a specific bounded region, but a “wild idea in the American mind, a wild place in the American West, a wild heart in the American breast, still beating after 144 years.”

Doug Hare is the Distribution Coordinator for Outlaw Partners. He studied philosophy and American literature at Princeton and Harvard universities.

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