Biology, History, Reviews, Sociology

NYT Sunday Book Review: Bigfoot

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NYT contributor Florence Williams begins her review of Joshua Blu Buhs’ new book for this weekend’s Sunday Book Review:

Because I watched TV in the 1970s, I have an image of Bigfoot stamped on my brain like a paw print. He resembles Chewbacca (minus the bandolier) walking through a grainy forest, scowling over his shoulder at the camera. But your Bigfoot image might be different, because for a while the hairy hominid was everywhere, in B movies and liquor advertisements and docu- and mocumentaries. He also starred in some “real” footage taken in 1967. That one was actually a she, complete with pendulous breasts.
Why did this ginormous, nonexistent ape capture our collective imaginations for five decades, and what does our infatuation say about us? Joshua Blu Buhs, the author of a previous book, about fire ants, takes up these questions in Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend.

Writing with a scientist’s skepticism but an enthusiast’s deep engagement in Bigfoot Buhs traces the wild and wooly story of America’s favorite homegrown monster beginning with nineteenth-century accounts of wildmen roaming the forests of America and treks to the Himalayas to reckon with the Abominable Snowman, all the way to northern California in 1958, when reports of a hairy hominid loping through remote woodlands marked Bigfoot’s emergence as a modern marvel. But more than just an entertaining history of the Sasquatch, Buhs book also focuses its attention on a fascinating cultural critique of “the white working-class men who were the beast’s advocates, hoaxers, hunters and most ardent consumers.” As Williams explains:

Buhs argues compellingly that Bigfoot’s heyday in the 1960s and ’70s was a difficult time for white, rural men in America. They were threatened by women’s rights, civil rights and service-oriented, materialist culture that didn’t value working with one’s hands or backwoods know-how. Believing in Bigfoot was a way to snub effete, skeptical scientists. Hunting him re-engaged their imperiled backcountry survival skills.… Bigfoot, even in its fakery, was “representative of the really real, the world beyond the facade, a world of life and death and vital things.…”

Insightfully illuminating what this monster say about our modern relationship to wilderness, individuality, class, consumerism, and the media, Buhs’ Bigfoot offers definitive take on this elusive beast.
Read the rest of the article in the upcoming New York Times Sunday Book Review or online here. Also see this excerpt from the book and an interview with the author.