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Satisfy Your Tiger King Obsession with These 5 Wild Nonfiction Books

Joe Exotic and Tiger

When I watched the first episode of Tiger King, I was immediately captivated by the intense characters, their obsession with wild animals, and their intriguing competitive relationships with each other. First, I could not believe that it was legal to own an exotic animal like a tiger in parts of the United States—that honestly blew my mind! Second, I started to think about the way crime and murderous passion intersects in circles like these, because obsession is such a key component of their exotic animal–focused lives. After I was done bingeing all the Tiger King episodes, I started looking for books with similar themes, and I found some that I think match perfectly. Stay safe at home, and enjoy these crazy stories filled with obsession, exotic animals, and passionate crime!

Savage Appetites

Savage Appetites

by Rachel Monroe

If your favorite part of Tiger King is the investigation of Carole Baskin’s husband’s disappearance, then this is the book for you. In this nonfiction investigative story, Monroe presents four women as archetypes: Detective, Victim, Defender, and Killer, providing a new perspective on the history of American crime. From the unsatisfied heiress in the 1940s who became known as the “Mother of Forensic Science,” to the teenager so involved in the online fandom of the Columbine killers that she began to plan a mass shooting of her own in 2015, Monroe explores how each story represents one of the archetypes. The book includes reportage, personal narrative, and an examination of the relationship between violence and the media.

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Animal Investigators

Animal Investigators

by Laurel A. Neme

These animal investigators are just the type of people you’d want to call during some of the more mysterious parts of Tiger King! You’ve probably never heard of it, but here in the United States there exists a crime lab like no other, the one-of-a-kind Clark R. Bavin U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory. Essentially, this is the CSI lab for wildlife, where agents and forensic scientists work together to investigate crimes against animals, as well as to protect endangered species, and do their best to eliminate the illegal wildlife trafficking that exists in this country. Neme presents three cases studies, and then highlights the ways that the USFW’s undercover investigators gather evidence of each crime. Throughout, she emphasizes the drastic implications of supply and demand for wildlife and animal parts on the international black market, and the high stakes nature of this secret industry.

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Why Fish Don't Exist

Why Fish Don't Exist

by Lulu Miller

Tiger King is all about obsession, with lots of twists and turns, including aspects of love, chaos, and even questions of murder. In this nonfiction book, NPR reporter Lulu Miller intertwines part of her own unraveling life story with the biography of David Starr Jordan, a taxonomist obsessed with discovering new fish species. As the author began to lose everything in her life, she found herself also wondering about this man who lost his life’s scientific work to lightning, fire, and even the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. At first, Miller saw Jordan as a type of cautionary tale for his hubris, but the more she studied his life, the more she realized that there was something about his persistence that mattered, that was also slowly changing the way she thought about history, and even her own mortality.

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The Falcon Thief

The Falcon Thief

by Joshua Hammer

Similar to Joe Exotic, Jeffrey Lendrum has a complex relationship with the exotic animals he smuggles. Indeed, The Falcon Thief paints a complicated picture of a man who is unable to step away from a decade of illegally procuring the offspring of wild falcons for Middle Eastern elites. For smugglers like Jeffrey Lendrum, it’s simply a question of supply and demand. The core of this story revolves around a wildlife detective, Andy McWilliam, who is in charge of investigating the falcon egg smuggling case, and the bizarre people that come with it—Lendrum goes to such concealing lengths as to tape falcon eggs to his body. Blending true crime and natural history, this nonfiction tale takes a deep look at the wildlife black market.

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Birds Art Life

Birds Art Life

by Kyo Maclear

If you’re looking for a narrator with a refreshingly healthy relationship to wildlife, dive into author Kyo Maclear’s intimate reflection on life and art, revealed through the lens of the birds she seeks throughout the urban landscape. For Maclear, it’s not about finding the most exotic birds, or trying to win over someone else—in these seasonal birds, she discovers joy, a space for contemplation, and, ultimately, a sense of what matters most in life. In this difficult time when we have all lost aspects of our previous lives, this book offers us beauty in the smallest ways, and understanding in the tiniest details. These core lessons from birds can be applied now more than ever, not just to art, but to other key aspects of our new normal.

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Estefania Acquaviva is currently an MFA-Fiction student at Columbia University. She recently graduated from Villanova University with a bachelor’s degree in English and Spanish Literature, with minors in Creative Writing and Business. Although she was born in Quito, Ecuador, she moved to the United States when she was in second grade. Away from her home country, she began to write stories to blend her Spanish and English lingo. Though she left Ecuador at a relatively early age, she never stopped loving the culture of her roots. The more she read, the more she wanted to share her own writing, book reviews, and book suggestions. You can find more of her work at www.estefania-acquaviva.com.