Built for Speed: A Year in the Life of Pronghorn (Hardback)
  • Built for Speed: A Year in the Life of Pronghorn (Hardback)

Built for Speed: A Year in the Life of Pronghorn (Hardback)

Hardback 256 Pages
Published: 15/09/2003
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North America’s fastest mammal, the pronghorn can accelerate explosively from a standing start to a top speed of 60 miles per hour—but it can also cruise at 45 miles per hour for many miles. What accounts for the speed of this extraordinary animal, a denizen of the American outback, and what can be observed of this creature’s way of life? And what is it like to be a field biologist dedicating twenty years to studying this species? In Built for Speed, John A. Byers answers these questions as he draws an intimate portrait of the most charismatic resident of the American Great Plains.

The National Bison Range in western Montana, established in 1908 to snatch bison from the brink of extinction, also inadvertently rescued the largest known remnant of Palouse Prairie. It is within this grassland habitat—home to meadowlarks, rattlesnakes, bighorn sheep, coyotes, elk, snipe, and a panoply of wildflowers—that Byers observes the pronghorn’s life from birth to death (a life often as brief as four days, sometimes as long as fifteen years) and from season to season. Readers will also experience the vicarious pleasures of a biologist who is eager to race a pronghorn in his truck, scrutinize bison dung through binoculars, and peer through the gathering dusk of a rainy evening to count the display dives of snipe.

A vivid and memorable tale of a first-rate scientist’s twenty-year encounter with a magnificent animal, the story of the pronghorn is also a reminder of the crucial role we can play in preserving the fleeting life of the native American grassland.

Publisher: Harvard University Press
ISBN: 9780674011427
Number of pages: 256
Weight: 458 g
Dimensions: 178 x 140 mm


Byers at all times writes with lucidity and warmth for the animal he has spent literally decades studying… Byers has called our attention to an often overlooked corner of creation: the shortgrass prairie. He urges us—through the strength of his prose and the sincerity of his passion—to conserve that very thing whose absence will be our confounding. - John A. Murray, Bloomsbury Review

A Year in the Life of Pronghorn is natural history at its best, a first-person narrative by zoology professor John A. Byers, told with the grace and agility that have made these four-legged Shelby Cobras famous. - Dan R. Barber, Dallas Morning News

Although a biologist who is obsessed with his subject could spout facts and numbers for hours, Byers suppresses neither his highly poetic sensibility nor his boundless joy in the marvels of life. The result is a work of literature, as when he describes the song of meadowlarks as ‘a low flood of burbling that spreads across the prairie like the sheet of light that fireflies make at grass tops after a thunderstorm.’ But readers also gain a tremendous sense of pronghorns’ lives, down to the tiniest details of how fawns survive. - David Lukas, Los Angeles Times

This is a swift, short take on a fascinating animal. - National Geographic Adventure

Byers, professor of zoology at the University of Idaho, has spent 20 years closely observing pronghorn on the National Bison Range in Montana. His account of the animal’s ways is thorough and fascinating. - Scientific American

This is a book of natural history, rather than an ethological study of a single species, and it brings to mind Frank Fraser Darling’s classic study of animal behaviour, A Herd of Red Deer, first published in 1937. In similar style, Byers writes simply and with sensitivity about the ways of life of the pronghorn, and he also brings in his observations and thoughts about the landscape of the prairie and its other inhabitants, from bison to grasshoppers. - Juliet Clutton-Brock, Times Literary Supplement

In Built for Speed, zoologist John A. Byers distills 20 years of experience observing the fastest mammal in North America… Most affectingly, the book captures the deep satisfaction Byers finds in his work. - American Scientist

John A. Byers is a field biologist who has spent almost a quarter of a century chasing pronghorn antelopes in Montana’s National Bison Range. Byers observes his subjects with such patience that he can recognize individual faces the way most people recognize friends and family. He’s read John James Audubon and John Muir, and, as he proves with stirring accounts of his experiences in big-sky country, he can spin a phrase with a skill worthy of those master wordsmiths. - Laurence A. Marschall, Natural History

Occasionally crossing into the lyrical, Byers successfully negotiates the shaky ground where scientific credibility and literary merit mingle with an attention to craft too often missing from ecology-based writing… What Byers does particularly well throughout the book is to tie the turning of the seasons and the resultant changes on the rhythms of pronghorn activity to elements of the natural world rather than calendrical time… He illuminates the flow and tragic drama of pronghorn life in a manner that could only come from someone close to the creatures, and he captures the essence of the animal without becoming sentimental or anthropomorphic—no small feat. - Ben Quick, Western American Literature

Byers, a biologist, has studied pronghorns on a refuge in western in Montana for more than 20 years, and this firsthand account of fieldwork in the high-plains grasslands evokes the wonder and beauty of the region as well as the mechanics of how to study such an alert and speedy animal. - Nancy Bent, Booklist

After describing the basic anatomy of pronghorn, [Byers] details the social system of adult females and their offspring, the feeding and playing behavior of fawns, the behavior of males before and during the rut, and the behavior of males and females after the rut as they prepare for the long winter on the prairie. Throughout, Byers also includes his personal observations of other species that are associated with this region, including snipe, meadowlarks, bison, and elk. With its vivid descriptions of the prairie and the animals that inhabit it, this book is an entertaining read for all audiences. - E. H. Rave, Choice

Listen to this serenade for American wild life sung by a biologist who has spend an unimaginable amount of time following his favorite animal, the pronghorn. With great love and humor, John Byers describes the ins and outs of this unassuming but remarkable animal’s life while effortlessly educating us about ecology and evolution. - Frans de Waal, author of The Ape and the Sushi Master

Readers of this book will be transported by its engaging prose into three very different worlds. First, they will gain an appreciation for what fieldwork on large mammals is really like. Second, they will see how there is no substitute for long-term research on marked individuals to gain knowledge on large mammal ecology. Thirdly, they will see a prehistoric world where cheetahs chase pronghorns over the North American Plains, and will be invited to think about how those distant events may affect the biology of modern-day pronghorn. - Marco Festa-Bianchet, Professor of Ecology, Université de Sherbrooke

John Byers’s Built for Speed is the best modern natural history I know. His profound sense of place, welded to his tenacious observations of the behavior of long-lived individuals, and his knowledge of deep time have exposed the ghosts of predators past on pronghorn. Added pleasure comes from Byers’s prose, which is sometimes as thrilling and amusing as watching pronghorn run. You won’t find a more passionate exegesis of what it is to be a modern animal behaviorist anywhere. - Patricia Adair Gowaty, Professor of Ecology, University of Georgia

John Byers’s beautifully written account of his twenty-year study of pronghorn antelope was sheer pleasure to read. With the eye and empathy of the keenest naturalist, and the voice of a poet, Byers evokes the sights and sounds of the western prairie so vividly that I felt as if I was there in Montana beside him. This splendid book certainly made me want to be. - Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, author of The Woman That Never Evolved

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