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A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear [review]

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A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling
Published by PublicAffairs on September 15, 2020
my rating: 2.5 stars
Goodreads avg:
3.86 (as of 2022-03-12)
Spoiler-free review

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Many times I’ve heard that it’s dangerous to let bears get acclimated to people, I’ve never been told what now seems clear to me — that it’s at least equally dangerous to let people get acclimated to bears.

As someone who grew up not far from Grafton (the American Town mentioned in the subtitle), I absolutely had to read this. A town taken over by libertarians and bears? How did I miss this?? As it turns out, I believe the bear situation came to a head once I had already left the state for college (I was gone from 2010-2020). But in reading the book, I was entirely unconvinced by its main premise. The libertarian project did not seem, to me, to have any connection with the changing behaviors of New Hampshire’s black bear population. This is even shown directly by the author when he talks about increasing bear sightings, break-ins, and attacks in other towns. Bears in general are spending too much time around humans (and vice-versa) and their populations are skyrocketing, forcing them to move into civilization for resources. Hasn’t this been the case for years with many predatory animals?

Certainly the libertarian group who moved to Grafton made a lot of changes to the town that had some negative outcomes, but I wasn’t convinced that the town itself was very solid to begin with, either. I found myself bored by the historical pieces and didn’t understand the inclusion of some stories. I just think Hongoltz-Hetling’s writing is really not for me. When talking about the long ago history of Grafton, he mocked the colonists for… being semi-illiterate? In the 1700s. Yeah. I also didn’t like the way he talked about some of the current residents; I got a real “haha look at these weirdos” vibe whenever someone was a little more odd than expected. He even made a comment about how badly he thought some of them smelled that seemed poorly phrased to me.

There is certainly some interesting stuff in here, but I really struggled to unearth it around Hongoltz-Hetling’s jabs and meanderings. This really could have (and should have, in my opinion) been a longform piece. Or two longform pieces! Since the two topics just do not connect strongly enough in my mind. An effort was made here, but I remain unconvinced by it.

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