Book Review:

Eight Bears: Mythic Past and Imperiled Future by Gloria Dickie

By Allison De Jong

Award-winning journalist Gloria Dickie’s Eight Bears is a that takes you places: you’re going on a world tour, visiting Peru and China, Vietnam and Ecuador, India and arctic Canada. And, in the U.S., Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, and a ranch in Montana. What connects these very different places is the eight species of bears that exist on our planet: South America’s spectacled bears, China’s pandas, India’s sloth bears, the sun bears and moon bears of southeast Asia, and the three on Montanans’ home continent: black bears, brown bears, and polar bears.

As we learn from Gloria’s expert, in-depth storytelling, each species has its own history and mythology, its own unique niche in its ecosystem, its own challenges. Gloria tracks down each bear, immersing herself in their landscapes and talking with the people who love, study, coexist with, and fear them (sometimes all at once). We learn that conservation of these species is tricky, especially in places where bear and human populations deeply overlap. Sloth bears are killed for their fierceness. Sun bears and moon bears are captured and caged to extract their medicinal bile. Pandas are universally beloved, but still their bamboo forests are sacrificed on the altar of agricultural expansion. And polar bears, which live far from dense human populations, are losing out to climate change in the rapidly warming Arctic.

As she tells the complex stories of the world’s eight bears, Gloria keeps returning to one central question: can we learn to coexist with our ursine neighbors? There are no easy answers, but what we do come to understand throughout this lovingly researched account is how much will be lost if we can’t.