Gregory J. Dehler’s The Most Defiant Devil: William Temple Hornaday and His Controversial Crusade to Save American Wildlife published by the University of Virginia Press, presents a biography of the early zoologist William Temple Hornaday. Hornaday worked at the beginning of the wildlife conservation movement. He was both a taxidermist for the American Museum of Natural History and a founder and designer of the Bronx Zoo. The book explores Hornaday’s relationship with Henry Fairfield Osborn, a paleontologist who studied extinct dinosaurs and feared extinction could occur in modern times. Under Osborn’s influence, Hornaday feared that droughts through the 1920s and ‘30s could lead to the extinction of waterfowl.
Hornaday told the public that over hunting threatened the existence of many species. Hornaday wanted European-style preserves, where hunting would be forbidden, to be established on federal lands. Although Theodore Roosevelt and the Boone and Crockett Club endorsed the conservation of wildlife and encouraged preserves for hunting; Hornaday and Roosevelt generally agreed on morality, politics, and the premise of game conservation. Hornaday shared his ideas through letters to Presidents Roosevelt and Hoover, the leaders he wrote to most intimately.
Although there is little in the book about Roosevelt, it is a valuable read for people who are interested in the history of hunting, environmentalism, conservationism, and everyone who likes visiting zoos. The story is presented well and the themes relate to similar concerns and events taking place across the nation such as recent controversy in North Dakota about whether or not sage grouse should be on the endangered species list.