ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Author T.C. Boyle loves to read about nature, especially the habits of animals and the natural progression of the food chain. Lately, he's enjoyed books about what happens when the food chain gets reversed and animals begin eating people.
Here he is with the latest in our Three Books series, in which authors recommend three books on one theme.
Mr. T.C. BOYLE (Author): The first of these, which brought me great comfort during the rigors of my last book tour, is "The Devil's Teeth" by Susan Casey, a lively study of the Farallon Islands and the great white sharks that gather there annually. The biggest ones, which can measure 8 feet in girth, are females, comfortingly called The Sisters by the biologists who study them.
One anecdote from the book stands out as exemplary of the whole business: A group of well-meaning people rescued an abandoned seal pup in San Francisco Bay. They nursed it back to health and vigor and then decided to release it in the pristine waters off the Farallons rather than in the bay, where some 95 percent of organisms are invasive species. They chartered a boat, motored out ceremonially to the islands and slipped the seal overboard at the very moment that one of The Sisters rose dramatically to behead it. Do these sharks eat people? They don't really want to. But don't put it past them.
The second book in this line is John Vaillant's "The Tiger," which deals with the ecology of Primorye, in Siberia, and its apex predator, the Siberian tiger. This is an animal that can weigh up to 600 pounds and, according to the author, is so fearless it has been known to attack brown bears, cousins to our grizzlies. At any rate, the present story concerns a hunter who shoots one of these tigers, with the notion of selling it for use in Chinese herbal remedies. The tiger objects. I won't ruin your collective dinners by talking about the remains of the hunter, which were reduced to his feet, still encased in their chewed-up boots, but I will say that this is one book in which you root for the animal.
The final book is an old favorite of mine, Peter Hathaway Capstick's "Death in the Dark Continent," the title of which says it all. Capstick was one of the last big-game hunters, and this book, published in 1983, consists of his ensanguined reminiscences of his days in Africa. He divides the book up in five sections, each representing the major game animals - i.e., threats to the population. My favorite here is the section on leopards, which see very well in the dark and like to lurk around huts waiting for some unfortunate, Granny or Junior, to step outside in the wee hours to answer the call of nature. Their propensity is to take hold of the skull and crush it.
And so, all in all, I recommend these books not necessarily as food for thought, but instead because they are guaranteed to take you out of yourself and remind you that we - our species of hominid - are, on an elemental level, just plain food.
SIGEL: That was author T.C. Boyle, whose new book is "When the Killing's Done." You can find more author recommendations at npr.org. And if you want to discuss these and other books with NPR listeners, join the NPR Facebook community. Just search for NPR books and click "like." And there you can also join our current book club conversation about Laura Hillenbrand's latest, "Unbroken."
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