Bears: A Year in the Life.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Reeves, Michael
Pub Date: 11/01/2009
Publication: Name: The American Biology Teacher Publisher: National Association of Biology Teachers Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Biological sciences; Education Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 National Association of Biology Teachers ISSN: 0002-7685
Issue: Date: Nov-Dec, 2009 Source Volume: 71 Source Issue: 9
Topic: NamedWork: Bears: A Year in the Life (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewed Illustrator: Breiter, Matthias Reviewee: Breiter, Matthias
Accession Number: 246348921
Full Text: Bears: A Year in the Life. By Matthias Breiter. 2005. Firefly Books Ltd. (ISBN 13: 978-1-55407-461-7). 176 pp. Paperback. $24.95

In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.

--Baba Dioum, Senegal

This quote found in the preface of Matthias Breiter's book sums things up for me pretty well. Whether you pick the book up for your class to explore, or from your library for research, or just to thumb through on your own, you will find all you should need to know about North American bears. He effectively teaches you volumes about the three species found in North America: the black bear, the brown or grizzly bear, and the polar bear. You do come to understand much from the book and in the end, learn to appreciate them.

The first thing that dazzled me was the photography. The photos, all taken by Breiter, really capture some amazing moments as Breiter brings the reader along on his journey. One shot in particular shows a bear with jaws wide open--makes you feel like you are about to be lunch! Reading Breiter's words is more like sitting down to coffee with a wildlife biologist--easy to read and full of interesting facts. The book is arranged so as to give insight as to what is going on each month of the year for the North American bears.

The book opens where new life begins--in February with hibernation in full swing and the arrival of new cubs. According to Breiter, bears are the only mammals that give birth at this time, when winter is at its harshest. There is some excellent content on what exactly hibernation in the bear entails, and Breiter goes into great detail later in differentiating between hibernation in bears and in other animal species.

I particularly enjoyed Breiter dispelling some of the myths that have become "common belief' in bear lore. Their eyesight is nowhere near as poor as once thought, and their sense of smell is comparable to that of canines. In talking about polar bears, Breiter mentions that "the animals can detect the lair of a seal from over half a mile away, even if covered by 3 feet of snow." Their sense of hearing is also much more highly developed than that of humans.

The book proceeds to cover in great depth such topics as bear physiology, mating behaviors, and the complex evolution of the bear species. Breiter addresses the challenges that occur as a result of expanding human populations--such as habitat destruction and increased interactions between humans and bears. An appendix at the end covers information on five bear species that do not inhabit North America.

At one point, Breiter was asked "What good is a bear?" I feel strongly that he has answered that question well in Bears: A Year in the Life. If nothing else, one should take the time to read the book before creating a false impression of bears. I was anxious to get the book home to show my children and they spent over an hour just looking through the photographs. Since that day, they have returned to the book often, as would anyone who is open to learning more about these amazing creatures.

The text and photographs expertly give an honest overture of North American bears that would be welcome in any home, library, or classroom.

Michael Reeves

Biology and Environmental Science Teacher

South Glens Falls Central High School

South Glens Falls, NY
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