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American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon (Paperback)

American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon By Steven Rinella Cover Image
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December 2008 Indie Next List

“American Buffalo is a fascinating, panoramic account of buffalo, their evolution, and the long history of their relationship with humans. Rinella's enthusiasm for his subject is evident as he skillfully juxtaposes his personal experience as a proficient and dedicated hunter with sections on archaeology and history, all accessibly and engagingly written.”
— Lynne Almeida, Spellbinder Bookshop, Bishop, CA


A hunt for the American buffalo, an “immensely readable” (Los Angeles Times) examination of an animal that has haunted the national imagination—from the #1 New York Times bestselling author and host of Netflix’s MeatEater

“Both a fascinating piece of outdoor writing and a gonzo meditation on the history of the mighty beast in our national life.”—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


In 2005, Steven Rinella won a lottery permit to hunt for a wild buffalo, or American bison, in the Alaskan wilderness. Despite the odds—there’s only a 2 percent chance of drawing the permit, and fewer than 20 percent of those hunters are successful—Rinella managed to kill a buffalo on a snow-covered mountainside and then raft the meat back to civilization while being trailed by grizzly bears and suffering from hypothermia. Throughout these adventures, Rinella found himself contemplating his own place among the 14,000 years’ worth of buffalo hunters in North America, as well as the buffalo’s place in the American experience. 

American Buffalo is a narrative tale of Rinella’s hunt. But beyond that, it is the story of the many ways in which the buffalo has shaped our national identity. Rinella takes us across the continent in search of the buffalo’s past, present, and future: to the Bering Land Bridge, where scientists search for buffalo bones amid artifacts of the New World’s earliest human inhabitants; to buffalo jumps where Native Americans once ran buffalo over cliffs by the thousands; to the Detroit Carbon works, a “bone charcoal” plant that made fortunes in the late 1800s by turning millions of tons of buffalo bones into bone meal, black dye, and fine china; and even to an abattoir turned fashion mecca in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, where a depressed buffalo named Black Diamond met his fate after serving as the model for the nickel.

Both a captivating narrative and a book of environmental and historical significance, American Buffalo tells us as much about ourselves as it does about the creature who perhaps best of all embodies the American ethos.

About the Author

In addition to being an expert chef known for working with wild game, Steven Rinella is an outdoorsman, writer, and television and podcast personality with an exceptional ability to communicate the hunting lifestyle to a wide variety of audiences. The host of the television show and podcast MeatEater, he is also the author of two volumes of The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game; Meat Eater: Adventures from the Life of an American Hunter; American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon; and The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Outside, Field & Stream, The New Yorker, Glamour, The New York Times, Men’s Journal, Salon, O: The Oprah Magazine, Bowhunter, and the anthologies Best American Travel Writing and Best Food Writing.

Praise For…

“Captivating . . . [Rinella is] an engaging, sharp-eyed writer whose style fuses those of John McPhee and Hunter S. Thompson.”Minneapolis Star Tribune
“One part Hemingway sparseness, and one part anthropological history of buffalo hunting over the past few thousand years . . . an adventurous and educational tribute to a great American animal.”Men’s Journal

“Rinella one-ups his previous book, The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine, by going after the massive and mythical buffalo. . . . Rinella’s tale of tracking buffalo in Alaska is alluringly visceral in its description. His multichapter description of killing, skinning and chopping up a buffalo cow is alternately stomach-turning and riveting. It’s easy to understand the allure of hunting, of respecting and living off the land, under Rinella’s unsentimental tutelage.”Time
“Eloquent, smart and obsessive . . . Rinella is a learned, wry voice in the wilderness.”Time Out New York

“Thrilling.”The Star-Ledger

“A fascinating piece of outdoor writing and a gonzo meditation on the history of the mighty beast in our national life. Rinella’s passion for his subject, intelligence and moments of craziness bring to mind another wild American spirit: the early, effective Hunter S. Thompson.”Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“A rich, engrossing, well-written book, and total brain candy for fact addicts.”—Bloomberg
“Fascinating . . . a very complex, wonderfully written book.”The Christian Science Monitor
“Engaging . . . brings home the satisfactions of one man’s self-reliance in an age when little we do alone so directly supports our survival. Too, it’s a journey into the snowy north, where the beauty and bounty of a faraway land come powerfully alive.”The Seattle Times

“A sleep-with-your-safety-off narrative of Rinella’s quest to shoot a wild bison in Alaska—and a testament to . . . the writer’s passion for his subject.”Outside magazine

“Part hunting memoir, part trivia-soaked history of the buffalo—as if pulled straight from the brainpans of Steve Irwin and Ken Jennings.”Details

“Brims with . . . historical tidbits . . . the breadth of Rinella’s knowledge is impressive.”Rocky Mountain News

“Rinella’s complex weave of guilt and pride, of understanding and qualified embrace of historical necessity, make this book an education not just in what we put in our mouths but in why and how people like and unlike us have done so—a lesson for the head, the heart and the stomach.”San Francisco Chronicle

“Rinella’s understated prose shows great flexibility, and he is by turns moving and downright funny. An experienced outdoorsman and hunter, Rinella writes with authority about the process of turning a living creature into steak, and easily renders an enormous amount of historical and scientific information into a thoroughly engaging narrative.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A fluently written celebration of life.”Kirkus Reviews
Product Details
ISBN: 9780385521697
ISBN-10: 0385521693
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: September 15th, 2009
Pages: 304
Language: English