A remarkable history of the most American animal

The buffalo — or, more properly, the American bison — has always been a symbol of the old American frontier. But the great virtue of Steven Rinella’s American Buffalo is that it sets that mythic resonance against hard ecological realities brought on by the animal’s resurgent population.

The book — which reads like an old-fashioned adventure story — follows the beast from its primordial dominance (when herds roamed the continent from Florida to British Columbia) to the brink of its extinction at the end of the 19th century. Along the way, Rinella looks at the roles buffalo have played — as totems, staples, useless trophies, and overexploited commodities fueling America’s western expansion and allowing explorers, hunters, and pioneers to push the frontier from Pennsylvania to the Pacific.

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A remarkable history of the most American animal