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The Better to Eat You With

Fear in the Animal World

At dawn on a brutally cold January morning, Joel Berger crouched in the icy grandeur of the Teton Range.  It had been three years since wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone after a sixty-year absence, and members of a wolf pack were approaching a herd of elk. To Berger’s utter shock, the elk ignored the wolves as they went in for the kill. The brutal attack that followed—swift and bloody—led Berger to hypothesize that after only six decades, the elk had forgotten to fear a species that had survived by eating them for hundreds of millennia.

Berger’s fieldwork that frigid day raised important questions that would require years of travel and research to answer: Can naive animals avoid extinction when they encounter reintroduced carnivores? To what extent is fear culturally transmitted? And how can a better understanding of current predator-prey behavior help demystify past extinctions and inform future conservation?

The Better to Eat You With is the chronicle of Berger’s search for answers.  From Yellowstone’s elk and wolves to rhinos living with African lions and moose coexisting with tigers and bears in Asia, Berger tracks cultures of fear in animals across continents and climates, engaging readers with a stimulating combination of natural history, personal experience, and conservation. Whether battling bureaucracy in the statehouse or fighting subzero wind chills in the field, Berger puts himself in the middle of the action.  The Better to Eat You With invites readers to join him there. The thrilling tales he tells reveal a great deal not only about survival in the animal kingdom but also the process of doing science in foreboding conditions and hostile environments.

360 pages | 16 color plates, 63 halftones, 12 maps | 6 x 9 | © 2008

Biological Sciences: Behavioral Biology, Conservation, Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, Natural History


"When ecologist Berger noticed that elk in Yellowstone were no longer afraid of wolves, who had been absent from the ecosystem for 60 years, it sparked a quest to answer three major questions: Can naive prey avoid extinction when their predators are reintroduced? To what extent can animals learn fear? And what can current behavior teach us about past extinctions and future conservation efforts? We follow Berger as he attempts to answer these questions by radio-collaring moose in below-zero temperatures in Grand Teton National Park and comparing how bison mothers in areas with wolves, areas without wolves, and areas with new wolf packs react to wolf calls. . . .The excitement and drudgery of fieldwork, combined with the author’s discoveries on how fear of predators changes the behavior of their prey, make for a book that teaches and thrills equally."


"Berger reports solid scientific information then goes beyond it in an extraordinary effort to understand animal fear and its role in survival and reproduction. The result is a luminous account of animal individuality and emotion."

Barbara J. King | Times Literary Supplement

"Berger’s research involved majestic hardships and eccentric practices that included pitching carnivore dung baseball-style at browsing moose to see if they responded to the scent. He is the hairy-arsed action-man academic whose experience comes not from the lab but from the wild world. Culture is not something that divides us from the animal world: it is one more thing that links us."

Simon Barnes | Times (UK)

"The Better to Eat You With builds upon the canon of important natural history literature that includes the writings of Leopold, the Muries, the Craigheads, George Shaller, E. O. Wilson, and Jacques Cousteau. . . . The book is that fine a read."

Tom Wilkinson | Jackson Hole News & Guide

"[The] extraordinary first-hand accounts of elk standing placidly as wolves approach in full view and promptly slaughter them make for gripping reading. They also have profound implications for programmes seeking to reintroduce top carnivores to habitats where they have long been absent. . . . A refreshing change from the dry and preachy tone often found in conservation books."

Luis Villazon | BBC Focus

"An informative, fun read."


"Every once in a while, one encounters a book that does not simply drive the scholar to meditation upon diverse philosophical theories, but speaks to her very mode of being-in-the-world, her practice of being human. Every once in a long while, one reads a book that changes how we see the world. This is one of those rare books. As Berger so eloquently phrases his core message, 'the question is not about wild or captive, animal or human. It is about all of us--living beings together in one place, on a single planet.'"

Wendy C. Hamblet | Metapsychology

“The complex and nuanced interplay between predator and prey is an essential thread in the fabric of nature. Joel Berger’s substantial contributions to this emerging world view have been rendered through simplicity and elegance—by observing prey and their predators across global landscapes in a purposeful way. This book, delivered in the personalized style of a life’s journey, tells an absorbing story of how big animals alter their behavior so as to manage the risk of being eaten.”

James A. Estes, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Santa Cruz

“How long do the ghosts of monsters linger before their misty essence evaporates?  And when the monster itself (wolf, tiger, men) returns with meat hunger, how long before prey rediscover terror? What created the singular fleetness and visual acuity of pronghorn antelope? How necessary are predators and the fear of them in maintaining the resilience of wild places? Joel Berger has written a stirring adventure of wildness, prey naiveté, animal culture, and science.”

Michael Soulé, Research Professor Emeritus in Environmental Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz

The Better to Eat You With offers a very novel, important, and global view of the complex interrelationships between predators and prey. Science, culture, and practical issues meet head on, as they must, in a book that surely will change existing views about the role of fear in the evolution of behavior. Only world-renowned and indefatigable field biologist Joel Berger could pull off such a comprehensive analysis of how past and present must be studied as we try to figure out how all animals—nonhuman and human—will be able to share harmoniously our one and only planet in the future. Berger’s book is a landmark contribution to the study of behavior and conservation.”

Marc Bekoff, author of The Emotional Lives of Animals

“Joel Berger is a world-class conservation scientist with a rare ability to transform knowledge into conservation action. In The Better to Eat You With he conveys the mysteries and wonder of wildlife behavior in a fast-paced narrative that both informs and inspires.”

Bill Weber, author of In the Kingdom of Gorillas

Table of Contents


Part One
The Hunt for Eden
1. The Wolf is at the Door—Who’s Afraid?
2. The Shy Giant of the Forest
3. A Tropical Primate in Alaska
4. Emissaries of a Dying Epoch
Part Two
The Meek and the Bold
5. Subarctic Shadows
6. To Know Thy Enemy
7. Among the Naive
8. A Tiger East of the Sun
Part Three
A Search for Ice Age Relicts
9. A Continent of Virgins and Recent Ghosts
10. On Being Caribou and Musk Ox
11. Islands of Ice and Innocence
Part Four
The Predator’s Gaze

12. Changing the Rules of Engagement
13. Nomads of the Gobi
14. The Silent Cats of Patagonia
Part Five
Making the Beast More Savage, or Less?
15. A Credibility Conundrum
16. Different Sides of the Darwinian Divide
17. Of Fear and Culture
Readings of Interest and Exploration

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