On September 21, 2012, twenty-five-year-old David Villalobos purchased a pass for the Bronx Zoo and a ticket for a ride on the Bengali Express Monorail. Biding his time, he waited until the monorail was just near the enclosure of a four-hundred-pound Siberian tiger named Bashuta before leaping into it. They spent ten long minutes together in the tiger’s cage before nature took its course, with one exception: the tiger did not kill him. David’s only response: “It’s a spiritual thing. I wanted to be at one with the tiger.”
One with the Tiger: Sublime and Violent Encounters Between Humans and Animals uses David’s story, and other moments of violent encounters between humans and predators, to explore the line between human and animal. Exposing what the author defines as the “shared liminal space between peace and violence,” Church posits that the animal is always encroaching on the civilization — and those seeking its wildness are in fact searching for an ecstatic moment that can define what it means to be human. Using examples from Timothy Treadwell to Mike Tyson, and such television icons as Grizzly Adams and the Incredible Hulk, Church shows how this ecstasy can seep its way into the less natural world of popular culture, proving time and again that each of us can be our own worst predator.
From the iron of a zoo cage’s bars to the expanse of our nation’s national parks, One With the Tiger examines the spaces in which humans contain animals, and how those acts of containment often fail. Church is a classically essayistic observer—curious, haunted, self-deprecating—and it’s through this lens that we’re confronted with stories of infamous animal attacks, pop culture icons, and the author’s own longing to inch forward as a bear approaches. In this marvelous collection, Church seems to write his consciousness directly onto the page, and in it we can see an entire civilization’s clumsy, sometimes desperate, attempts to understand our relationship to the wild.
In One with the Tiger, Steven Church stalks the entire genre of nature writing, rips it down to the raw bone, then reassembles the parts into something totally new and utterly compelling. Like the best of John Krakauer or Rebecca Solnit, the narrative pulls you in and absolutely refuses to let you go—or forget. Church is writing at the very apex of his game, and One with the Tiger is likely the most innovative, disturbing, and brilliant book you’ll read all year.
Some of us are born with a lust for the ledges, for any chance to make the leap. In this mesmerizing collection, Steven Church proves, once again, that he is a master of evaporating lines between fact and fiction, imagination and memory. ‘It’s strange how a subject overtakes you,’ Church tells us. This book overtook me.
One With the Tiger explores the deep human need to participate in an atavistic ecstasy; to be, as Church puts it "absorbed but not destroyed." Church’s approach is not clinical, moralizing, or gee-whiz superficial; it is, to our benefit, essayistic. By circling rather than simplifying, he illuminates the taboo, ever-shifting boundaries between man and animal. Church is the rare author who knows what’s interesting— which is to say, uncomfortable—about his chosen subject.
Muscular, vulnerable, twitchy, and relentlessly curious, Steven Church’s awesome One with the Tiger stalks some of our most absurd, sometimes-violent, and uncontainable compulsions for communion and self-destruction, and finds, lurking within them, such a fragile, funny, and heartbreaking humanity that it’s all we can do as readers to leap and leap into the exhilarating zoo pit of this book, and to emerge as better, more baffling, and more beautiful mutants. Church’s interrogation of our cockeyed innateness braids evisceration with assurance, bite with whisper. This book tears us open by way of acceptance, the drive to assuage, the electric and desperate urge to unearth the secrets fueling the shadowy back-alleys of our hearts. I never wanted Church’s wild and bemused treatises on absorption, collision, truth, family, ecstasy, strange spiritual yearning and—ultimately—even stranger empathy to ever stop.
One with the Tiger is a meditation on animality and the space between suburbs and savanna, citizenship and savagery. Church is as close to the teeth of the beast as he is to escape. This is his love letter to animal magnetism, primal fear, and the wilderness of human imagination. The genius of this book is how it questions who is in captivity: the tiger in its cage or you.
Church has written a funny, smart, and terrifying book that explores the invisible boundaries between human and animal. This sensitive and thoughtful writer allows the reader to hear the siren call of the wild and step deep into the existential anxiety of what it means to be human.
A powerfully written attention-grabber.
[An] insightful exploration of human infatuation with nonhuman animals.
Church does well in connecting the human fascination with apex predator behavior and its potential relation to our own animal instincts...[a] captivating study.
Church combines the thoughtfulness of Rebecca Solnit with the sharpness of Chuck Klosterman, producing a collection of essays that is as insightful as it is entertaining.
[One With The Tiger] is exactly what literary nonfiction should be: imaginative, formally elastic, emotionally engrossing, and deeply intelligent.
Reading One with the Tiger is like watching Mike Tyson bite off Evander Holyfield’s ear or like looking at pictures of the victims of chimpanzee attacks: horrifying and startlingly true.