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Distributed for Reaktion Books


Stoic, regal, and formidable in size and strength, the bison has long epitomized the American West. Perhaps this is even more so because we have, in our avarice, nearly destroyed them all, and are now seeking to restore their populations. From spiritual figure to abused resource to powerful symbol of wildlife preservation, the bison is a microcosm of the West itself, and in this book, renowned zoologist Desmond Morris tells its fascinating story from the first evidence of its fossil record two million years ago all the way up to today.
Exploring the bison’s evolution and habitat, Morris paints a nuanced portrait of this iconic animal, exploring the different sides of its personality. He shows that, while generally seen as gentle and calm, bison in fact are very unpredictable, liable to attack at any moment. Comparing and contrasting the two remaining species—the European wisent and the American bison—he goes on to tell the heartbreaking story of their near-extinction, how we hunted them down from innumerable numbers to less than a thousand, with such little regard that it was a common practice for train travelers to shoot them from their passing cars. He also tells the story of our more recent efforts—and successes—at bringing them back to such a point that their domestically raised meat has now become a popular alternative to beef. Throughout, Morris balances this natural history with a cultural one, the lore of the bison and the spirit of the west, dotting his text with vibrant images of the bison from nature, art, and popular culture. The result is an absorbing history of one of the most majestic creatures to walk the plains of the earth. 

224 pages | 70 color plates, 30 halftones | 5 1/4 x 7 1/2 | © 2015


Biological Sciences: Natural History

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“In Bison, Desmond Morris traces the past and present of this massive animal who resembles ‘the front half of a mountain gorilla and the rear half of a racehorse.’ . . . His excellent chapters on bison in art, and bison social and natural history, are heightened by the photographs—including a bison male showing the flared-nose flehmen response to a female’s ‘sexual fragrance’—for which this Animal series from Reaktion is renowned. Morris’s evident 
compassion for the sustained suffering of this majestic animal is welcome.”–

Barbara King | Times Literary Supplement

“An informative, sometimes amazing book about bison worldwide and their often tragic encounters with humans.”


“This small book offers a very comprehensive coverage of bison biology, from the days when humans hunted them with spears 4000 years ago to present-day conservation efforts and commercial exploitation. Like other books in this series, this one has plenty of illustrations (sixty-eight of them in color) and reviews the history of bison as emblems, in postage stamps, and as food and from a biological viewpoint. Their ecology, evolution, colonization of New and Old Worlds, behavior, predators, it's all there—even a list of bison-related films.”

Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society

Table of Contents

1 Prehistoric Bison
2 Bison in European History
3 Bison in American History
4 Bison as Food
5 Bison as Emblems
6 Bison as a Visual Image
7 Bison as Companions
8 Bison in Evolution
9 Bison in Natural History
Appendix 1: Bison in Films
Appendix 2: Close Relatives of the Bison
Appendix 3: Bison Hybrids
Select Bibliography
Associations and Websites
Photo Acknowledgements

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