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Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law


Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law

Human civilization and settlement inhabit the same physical spaces as the animal kingdom, no matter how distinct we believe our lives and places to be. From gigantic elephants and bears to rats and wee mice, we encounter animals not just in the wild but in our cities, towns, villages, sacred sites and homes. In FUZZ, Mary Roach, the author of such science-for-the-layperson bestsellers as GULP and STIFF, examines these intersections and introduces readers to the researchers, wardens and other experts who study and deal with the issues that arise as a consequence of the contact.

During the medieval period in Europe, animal encounters and attacks were sometimes prosecuted legally with animals summoned to court. The 1659 summons of pilfering caterpillars in Italy is just one humorous example. But in many times and places, contact between wild animals and people can be harmful and deadly, so various methods to reduce risk have been tried. Some meet with stunning failure, while others have a prospect of success. The book takes a look at the fraught relationships between humanity and our wild relatives, and the way we deal with that relationship scientifically and legally.

"Informative, engaging, often weird and incredible, FUZZ is an entertaining geek-out on a specific topic that has such far-ranging impact."

FUZZ is another great outing from Roach, whose explanations are clear and understandable and whose prose is warm, hilarious and often snarky. She continues to be a likable tour guide through some of the stranger or more unusual scientific scenes. Here she starts with a chapter, “Maul Cops,” introducing the grisly and fascinating forensic science that helps identify animals that attack humans. At a conference she gathers evidence from mock scenes and learns how to identify wild animal bites and kills. The next chapter is about bears, focusing on grizzly and brown encounters in alleys, parks and homes. While humans have been steadily encroaching on bear territory for decades, when things go wrong, bears are the ones who pay the price.

This is true of many of the other animals Roach discusses: hunted “problem” leopards, sterilized monkeys, exploded crows and glue-trapped mice, to name just a few. The bears that eat from dumpsters and come through doors and windows in homes in Aspen, Colorado, have been acclimated to the food opportunities found in human company. And where people have the chance to distance themselves from wild animals like bears through various measures, they rarely do. Instead, bears (or leopards or gulls) get labeled as nuisances at best, killers at worst.

This story of human and animal contact --- and the legal and ethical ramifications that ensue --- takes Roach from the Rocky Mountains to Vatican City, and from the Himalayas to Plum Brook, Ohio, and into conversation with predator specialists, conservationists, chemists, wildlife managers and even a “Human-Elephant Conflict Specialist.” Flora also gets attention as Roach includes chapters on trees and poison beans.

Informative, engaging, often weird and incredible, FUZZ is an entertaining geek-out on a specific topic that has such far-ranging impact. More than a science writer, Roach articulates the questions that fascinate and worry us and finds answers that delight us as we think about the world and our place in it.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on September 24, 2021

Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law
by Mary Roach

  • Publication Date: August 30, 2022
  • Genres: Humor, Nonfiction, Science
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
  • ISBN-10: 1324036125
  • ISBN-13: 9781324036128