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Publisher's Summary

It’s December 1997, and a man-eating tiger is on the prowl outside a remote village in Russia’s Far East. The tiger isn’t just killing people, it’s annihilating them, and a team of men and their dogs must hunt it on foot through the forest in the brutal cold. As the trackers sift through the gruesome remains of the victims, they discover that these attacks aren’t random: the tiger is apparently engaged in a vendetta. Injured, starving, and extremely dangerous, the tiger must be found before it strikes again.

As he re-creates these extraordinary events, John Vaillant gives us an unforgettable portrait of this spectacularly beautiful and mysterious region. We meet the native tribes who for centuries have worshipped and lived alongside tigers, even sharing their kills with them. We witness the arrival of Russian settlers in the 19th and early 20th centuries, soldiers and hunters who greatly diminished the tiger populations. And we come to know their descendants, who, crushed by poverty, have turned to poaching and further upset the natural balance of the region.

This ancient, tenuous relationship between man and predator is at the very heart of this remarkable book. Throughout, we encounter surprising theories of how humans and tigers may have evolved to coexist, how we may have developed as scavengers rather than hunters, and how early Homo sapiens may have fit seamlessly into the tiger’s ecosystem. Above all, we come to understand the endangered Siberian tiger, a highly intelligent super-predator that can grow to 10 feet long, weigh more than 600 pounds, and range daily over vast territories of forest and mountain.

Beautifully written and deeply informative, The Tiger circles around three main characters: Vladimir Markov, a poacher killed by the tiger; Yuri Trush, the lead tracker; and the tiger himself. It is an absolutely gripping tale of man and nature that leads inexorably to a final showdown in a clearing deep in the taiga.

©2010 John Vaillant (P)2010 Random House

Critic Reviews

“Suspenseful and majestically narrated.... Vaillant has written a mighty elegy that leads readers into the lair of the tiger and into the heart of the Kremlin to explain how the Amur tiger went from being worshipped to being poached.” ( Publishers Weekly)
The Tiger is the sort of book I very much like and rarely find.... In addition to tiger lore and scalding adventure, Vaillant shows us Russia’s far east and its inhabitants, their sometimes desperate lives interwoven with the economics of poaching and the politics of wildlife conservation. I was startled to learn about the zapovedniks and Russia’s primary place in global conservation. This is a book not only for adventure buffs, but for all of us interested in wildlife habitat preservation.” ( Annie Proulx)

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  • Richard
  • Boston, MA, United States
  • 09-10-10

Very well written and a must for Big Cat fans

I'll begin with the author's reading skills: Pretty damn good. Above average voice and tone...While true that reading your own book at the level is generally a poor idea....this proves to be an exception.

Since it's very well written and tells a story that I found fascinating...I have to give four stars...more like 4.3...Some might not like the multiple digressions into Russian history, animal psychology, and lots of other words ending with "ology" but the digressions are the book...otherwise, it's a short magazine article about events that occurred on the border area between Russian and China where the biggest of the big cats dwindling numbers...supported by some dedicated Russian "inspectors" and wildlife foundations....endangered by poachers seeking to sell tiger parts to morons in China and elsewhere that revere tiger penises and bones as "medicine"...The narrative revolves around the killings by a tiger in 1996 that terrorized the small region...the book is a travel book...history book...adventure book...nature book...and a must read for big cat fans.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

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Thy Fearful Symmetry

"Did he who made the Lamb make thee? Tyger Tyger burning bright, in the forests of the night..." [Wm. Blake]

Imagine--the largest species of tigers, the Amur, or Siberian tiger: 700 lbs., with a chest girth of 56 inches, 12 feet long from nose to tail, 4 feet high at the shoulder. The best camouflaged animal in the forest, stalking you, unseen--silently on giant paws hiding retractable claws the size of a velociraptor's. The golden eyes are unblinking and the mounth slightly open revealing teeth that are 5" long and over an inch thick at the base; the jaw has the power of 1200 psi; the tongue is covered with small hook-like projections that can lick the paint off a building--or strip meat from a bone. If you are average, you can run about 11 mph--but you are in knee high snow...the tiger can run 50 mp--in the snow. From a crouch, it was thought the tiger could jump 12 feet high, until at a San Francisco zoo an Amur tiger jumped a 12 1/2 ft. fence, escaping it's enclosure; launched from a run, the tiger can cover a distance of up to 30 feet . The roar of the animal is so loud it is in the *sonic realm* and distorts the neurological pattern. Now, imagine that animal has a memory, a temper, and a grudge against you!

Vaillant has painstakingly combined the legends and facts about this amazing and endangered animal and woven them into both the political history of Russia, and the true story of the fateful expedition. The combination is fascinating and kept me absorbed--even though I wanted more tiger. The amount of research that has gone into compiling this book is mind-boggling, and Valliant has constructed a flawless platform for his closing statements.

..."the side effect of our ravenous success...we are in charge of this tiger's fate--an extraordinary power for one species to wield over another...what will be the results?"

The dwindling Amur are not the stars of this book--it is Valliant's research and presentation...necessary to protect such majestic animals, and guarantee there will always be the Amur tiger.

22 of 25 people found this review helpful

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  • Susan
  • Salt Lake City, UT United States
  • 12-20-10

A great story well told.

Tigers, Siberia, hunting man eating tigers in Siberia. I would never have considered this book had it not been recommended by a good friend. Lucky for me, I had the day off today or I'd have been up all night. A tiger kills a man in Siberia in a way that strongly suggests she chose her prey and stalked him for some time. The men who hunt her try to understand why. Do tigers hold a grudge? Is this all about retribution? If so, for what? It reads like a great mystery/thriller with enough history and psychology (or us and the tigers) thrown in to make it one of my favorite reads of the year.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Story


The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival is one interesting read through which John Vaillant (The Golden Spruce) takes up the story of revenge by a Tiger victimized by a poacher. Along the way reader is taken in by the storyline while being introduced to related economic, political, and conservation issues. Frankly, I have never read anything quite like this story. It is John McPhee with a dark story and twist. It is Yann Martel’s Life of Pi in a nonfiction narrative. Most impressive are the sections in which Vaillant lets the reader into the mind and cognitive nature of the Tiger. I was taken aback several times. In sum, this is a very interesting book. At least pick it up and read a few passages before you make up your mind. Vaillant reads his own book to great advantage.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Sean
  • BELVEDERE TIBURON, CA, United States
  • 10-25-10

Moby Dick meets Brothers Karamzov

This book grabs you with a fast paced, exciting first chapter but never really delivers on that promise.

In trying to describe the events of the attack and put them in context the author strays a little too far a little too often to hold the reader. Further, the big question introduced in the first chapter is never answered satisfactorily.

I appreciated his description of post-perestroika Russia, which I was almost completely ignorant of before this book. But the background starts to feel like a history lesson and you keep asking "but what about the tiger?" This is even worse when he goes into the personal histories of the involved hunters and townspeople. I'm certain these people made a tremendous impression on the author, but the details of their lives do not really move the narrative along.

The writing is excellent--having lived "up north" I really was transported by his descriptions and he re-creates the feel of village life quite well. I also enjoyed his narration. It is difficult for an author to read their own book, but he manages to inflect well enough to make you catch puns you might otherwise miss.

With better editing this could have been another "Into Thin Air" but as is it requires some effort to get through.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Andrew
  • GILBERT, AZ, United States
  • 09-26-10

Interesting topic and well read

This book is a little like Cod, or Krakatoa, in that it centers on a single event or subject but spends most (or most) of its time on topic's periphery. I tend to enjoy books written this way. The Tiger is not equal to Cod or Krakatoa (I would rate both five starts) but is still informative and enjoyable.

The reader (author) does a great job. I came away feeling confident in my pronunciation of Vladivostok.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Symbolic Siberian Man-Eating Tiger

The wonders you might find in the giant and bountiful gardens of literature have never failed to amaze me. One need only look widely enough and take a chance and he might be put in the Siberian taiga (the sometimes swampy coniferous forest of high northern latitudes) in far eastern Russia as the locals encounter a looming Amur tiger (a/k/a Siberian tiger which can grow up to 10 ft. & 660 lbs.), seemingly intent on exacting revenge for being shot and having already eaten two men in separate incidents over several days.

In the course of this account, Mr. Vaillant colors the local characters and the poverty in the Primorski province of the Russian Far East, and makes one contemplate who is more danger to man (Panthera tigris altaica or Hominis corrupti regimen).

Mr. Vaillant does a great job narrating and paints a fuller picture with his voice inflections and pauses. This makes him an exception to the rule that authors make lousy narrators, though I'm finding more and more that some narrators apparently believe they can improve up (i.e., modify) the book by adding ridiculous accents, emphases that are clearly misplaced, and their otherwise overly dramatic flourishes.

Brilliant nonfiction that I'd not heard of until a few days ago while digging in the Audible/Amazon.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Suffers in comparison to other similar books

I was led to this book by audible's recommendations, and it sounded interesting enough. It looked like it would fit the mold of three books I have really enjoyed recently; Unbroken by Laura Hillebrand, and Destiny of the Republic and River of Doubt by Candice Millard. These were all notable for taking historical episodes that are little known now, but naturally incredibly interesting stories, and applying the skills of a gifted storyteller to them. The result in each case was a page-turning and edifying read, and I thought I'd get the same thing here. A brave band of intrepid hunters chasing down a vengeful man-eating tiger in the freezing forests of Russia? How can that not be riveting? I expected therefore to like the book, but ended up being disappointed. I made it through but only with considerable effort.

Vaillant's writing style is well-suited for this work, and it is obvious he did extensive research. The effort involved shows through. It almost seems, though, as if he went out there intending to write a book on an incredible story, and then discovered, after a great deal of time and effort, that the story was just not as interesting as he thought, but decided he'd done the work and had to go through with the book anyway.

Previous reviewers are correct that there is a much material covering the history and sociology of post-Perestroika Russia. Too much, in my opinion; I could have enjoyed some of that but there was more here than I needed. The information on Tiger biology and behavior, and on the hunting of tigers, held my interest better.

Valliant's format is in fact very similar to the one Millard employs in her books. Begin In Media Res; then go back to the beginning; then alternate chunks of relevant background material with chunks of story advancement. The main problem in The Tiger, I believe, is that the protagonist, antagonist, and events are just not big enough. When Candice Millard goes off on a backstory tangent about Teddy Roosevelt or the early Amazon explorers or James Garfield or Alexander Graham Bell, the material there is gripping. These are big people who did big things. The hunters described by Vaillant were rugged and determined and all that, but Teddy Roosevelt they were not.

The tiger itself suffers in comparison to the antagonists that come to mind when approaching a book like this; Moby Dick, Jaws, or the Lions in The Ghost and the Darkness. These animal villains are larger than life, they terrify us but win our respect, and the protagonists are elevated by defeating them (or just trying). Vaillant is limited by the constraints of real life - of the events that actually happened, but without wanting to give any spoilers, the titular tiger will not inspire the nightmares that Jaws did.

So I'm tempted to give Vaillant a break and say that the events just weren't incredible enough to provide the material for a great read. But then I think again of Millard's description of the protagonist Bell against the antagonist "bullet lodged in Garfield," and how I couldn't wait to read about it, even though I knew full well what happened in advance. So, maybe there was enough material here.

Take it for what it's worth, many of the other reviewers clearly liked it, but for me it fell short of the other books of its type that I'd read recently. I will say that Vaillant was quite good as the narrator of his own book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Excellent story, excellent performance

Not all authors should read their books out loud, but John Vaillant is not one of these. His narration, including representing his characters' mannerisms is spot on. I was not expecting as gripping a story, and certainly not the finely strung and explosive climax. This is a book for all ages and one all should read. It will make a tiger supporter out of all of us!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Could become a classic

What an interesting book. The author weaves the story of Eastern Russia, China in all its splendor, geographic, cultural, political in this story of tigers, people and the boreal jungle. This book is very well written and tells congruent stories interwoven in the fabric of the area south of Vladivostok. Take your time with the book. This could easily be assigned reading in a literature course. A combination of Moby Dick, The Guns of August and A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. A pleasure through and through.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful