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THE SACRED PAW: THE BEAR IN NATURE, MYTH, AND LITERATURE : by Paul Shepard and Barry Sanders (Viking: $17.95).

February 16, 1986|DAVID GRABER

We are connected to the bear. The chimpanzee and gorilla are our genetic kin, of course, but they lead lives far from ours in style as well as geography. But the bear is our forest twin.

Of a size often close to our own, possessing a hind foot remarkably similar, he favors many of the same foods we do. He is highly intelligent, and more than our equal in strength. No mystery that the eight kinds of bear have engendered fascination, myth and literature throughout the Americas, Eurasia and the Arctic where they and humankind have shared ground.

"The Sacred Paw" is a synthesis of our multiplicity of connections to the bear, and what we know of his natural history. Paul Shepard, professor of human ecology at Pitzer College, has long written of our relations to wildlife and nature, including his books, "Nature and Madness" and "Thinking Animals." Sanders, a professor of English at Pitzer, offers literary counterpoint. Together, they have come up with a surprisingly coherent and readable assemblage. If the vast quantities of ursine paraphernalia sold in recent years is any guide, there is perhaps a genuinely interested and receptive audience for this species of enlightenment: literate, scholarly, but far from detached.

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