A century ago...hunting exploits made Roosevelt the toast of the American press—a reaction that is hard to understand today, when social attitudes toward trophy hunting have sharply reversed. As for attitudes toward hunting more generally, the picture is complicated: Some 70 percent of Americans say they approve of it, but only a small proportion now regularly do it themselves ... In his lively and compelling book...Philip Dray acknowledges these tensions, deepening and complicating them by putting them in historical context. His book offers a capacious and erudite history of the practice and meanings of hunting in American life ... Written with sensitivity and bracketed judgment, it describes a culture and asks questions, telling a story full of paradoxes and nuance ... Any story of whites hunting in America, whatever their class or ethnicity, is also story of native communities being ethnically cleansed from that same territory. Dray does not hesitate to remind the reader of this fact repeatedly ... As Dray so powerfully demonstrates, debates over conservation, like debates over hunting, have always illuminated certain core contradictions in American culture: tensions between the urban and rural, between the natural world and capitalist extraction, between elites and the general populace ... As an unrivaled history, and an admirably crafted bid to deepen dialogue between groups of Americans who might otherwise view one another as alien or out of touch, Dray’s Fair Chase is a vital intervention.
What is O.K. to hunt, when and why? The Fair Chase isn’t a book about ethics and philosophy, but Dray does a fine job introducing his readers to the issues in play ... The Fair Chase can be frustrating at times. Dray’s historical method involves a bit of overlapping and backtracking, and he sometimes seems more interested in the literary description and public presentation of hunting rather than the act itself. Hunting is an emotional, blood-racing activity, and Dray seems happy to leave the intense feelings it provokes to in-the-field writers ... Still, he isn’t afraid to lay out hard truths, including the ways in which the National Rifle Association, once a hunting group, has hijacked an important and honorable pastime for gun-selling ends.
The author has written an excellent overview of the history of hunting ... The engaging text, which covers the creation of the National Rifle Association and the National Audubon Society, is enhanced by hundreds of excellent, annotated chapter notes ... Vital reading for all interested in natural history, conservation, ethics, American history, and firearms. Highly recommended.