The Eye of the Mammoth
In four decades of writing for magazines ranging from Texas Monthly to the Atlantic, American History, and Travel Holiday, Stephen Harrigan has established himself as one of America’s most thoughtful writers. In this career-spanning anthology, which gathers together essays from two previous books—A Natural State and Comanche Midnight—as well as previously uncollected work, readers finally have a comprehensive collection of Harrigan’s best nonfiction.
History—natural history, human history, and personal history—and place are the cornerstones of The Eye of the Mammoth. But the specific history or place varies considerably from essay to essay. Harrigan’s career has taken him from the Alaska Highway to the Chihuahuan Desert, from the casinos of Monaco to his ancestors’ village in the Czech Republic. Texas is the subject of a number of essays, and a force in shaping others, as in “The Anger of Achilles,” in which a nineteenth-century painting moves the author despite his possessing a “Texan’s suspicion of serious culture.” Harrigan’s deceptively straightforward voice, however, belies an intense curiosity about things that, by his own admission, may be “unknowable.” Certainly, we are limited in what we can know about the inner life of George Washington, the last days of Davy Crockett, or the motives of a caged tiger, but Harrigan’s gift—a gift that has also made him an award-winning novelist—is to bring readers closer to such things, to make them less remote, just as a cave painting in the title essay eerily transmits the living stare of a long-extinct mammoth.
"Harrigan is a masterful storyteller, cataloguing scenery and character beautifully, often with great humor. . . These pieces convey a deep and rewarding connection with place. Reaching across the history of Texas, both natural and cultural, he creates a paradoxical effect--collapsing the sweeping distances of a vast and varied state while giving its immense particularity its due."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Charming, transporting essays. They are enchanting, irresistible and cast a magic spell."—Jane Sumer, Dallas Morning News
"These essays speak with the same acuity and matchless prose that won Harrigan national acclaim in his bestselling novels The Gates of the Alamo and Remember Ben Clayton; readers of Harrigan's fiction are sure to find this definitive collection of his nonfiction no less arresting."—Brett Beasley, Booklist
"At once closely observed, perceptive, humorous and eloquent, these short works are not so much essays as meditations. The experience of reading them is like having a quiet conversation with a wise old friend."—Steve Bennett, San Antonio Express-News
"Harrigan writes with ease, with a straightforward, with a straightforward, friendly thoughtfulness that lures you in. . . The Eye of the Mammoth provides a wonderful overview of Harrigan's innate curiosity--and glimpses of how his fine mind works. The British author Henry Green once wrote that prose 'should be a long intimacy between strangers' and 'should slowly appeal to feelings unexpressed.' You'll find that Green's judgment applies especially well to Harrigan's latest collection."—Charles Ealy, Austin American Statesman
"Harrigan displays in abundance the trait all great essayists possess: curiosity. . . Like sitting next to a loquacious, genial and informative passenger on a slow trans-Texas train."—Kirkus Reviews