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.
"This exquisite book will make you see the world anew. It is a delight to wander the world with Stephen Harrigan, experiencing through him the vastness of Big Bend, the mysteries of the mummified Ice Man, the absurdities (and successes!) of his Hollywood career. Harrigan is a man of meticulous observation and wit, and The Eye of the Mammoth abundantly provides readers with those pops of pleasure one gets from the perfectly turned phrase. This book amply illustrates that Stephen Harrigan is a national treasure."
Emily Yoffe, Slate columnist and author of What the Dog Did
"Word by word, book by book, Stephen Harrigan has proven that he’s the best writer Texas has ever produced."
Lawrence Wright, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11
"The Eye of the Mammoth is Stephen Harrigan at his best, and Harrigan at his best is one of the great pleasures available to readers of the contemporary essay. Relaxed and conversational in tone, yet always substantive and enlightening, he demonstrates absolute mastery of both the essay form and his fascinating subject matter."
Daniel Okrent, author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition
"Like sitting next to a loquacious, genial and informative passenger on a slow trans-Texas train."
"These essays speak with the same acuity and matchless prose that won Harrigan national acclaim in his best-selling novels The Gates of the Alamo (2000) and Remember Ben Clayton (2011); readers of Harrigan’s fiction are sure to find this definitive collection of his nonfiction no less arresting."
"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 particularly its due… Best of all, he has an uncanny knack for ending his essays in exactly the right place, more often than not carrying what would otherwise have been pleasant and serviceable to a stirring and unusually satisfying conclusion."
"Harrigan has written beautifully about the various natural wonders of the state…Through it all, Harrigan writes with ease, with a straightforward, friendly thoughtfulness that lures you in and makes you wonder how someone can be so nice, so modest, so self-deprecating at times, when it’s obvious that writing as concisely and clearly as he does is quite difficult."
The Austin American-Statesman