Bjorn Dihle was born and raised in the outdoors of Alaska, where he has worked for years as a brown (or grizzly) bear viewing guide. A Shape in the Dark: Living and Dying with Brown Bears is his lovely, thoughtful study of the relationship between humans and this evocative, storied species.
"There have been times I almost hated bears," he writes. "Like most feelings of hostility, mine were rooted in fear. Yet, there is no place I love more than grizzly country, and no animal has intrigued and challenged me more than the bear." Moving around in time, Dihle tells his own stories of encounters, from the first brown bear he ever saw--a carcass in a salmon stream when the author was four or five years old--through early trailside meetings and learning how to relate to bears, into his career seeking them out, especially on Alaska's Admiralty Island.
A Shape in the Dark is an appealing, accessible memoir and a history of the interplay of bears and humans in the American West. Dihle intersperses his own and his friends' bear encounters with those of Grizzly Adams and Teddy Roosevelt, outlining the evolution of attitudes and policy toward grizzlies. He writes of famous and less famous maulings, the complexities of bear hunting, the role of grizzly bears in native cultures and the impact of climate change on Alaska and its greatest predator.
Quiet, meditative, wise, well informed, A Shape in the Dark is memoir, history and philosophy in one. Dihle's love for his subject is contagious and beautifully conveyed. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia