Wolves On the Bridlepath
On People and Other Pack Animals
Winner of the Jan Wolkers Prize for Nature Writing and the P.C. Hooft Oeuvre Prize
Goldschmidt’s essays have been dubbed ‘Goldschmidt Variations’ in the past. Nothing is ever as it seems in them; culture and evolution always turn out to be more connected than you might initially suspect. In an essay on the digitization of texts, for example, the biologist looks for parallels between copying DNA and the increasingly precise copying and distribution of texts (‘cultural evolution’). In another essay, he links a botanical art installation to the spread of tulip varieties to the migration patterns of immigrants. Goldschmidt’s essays are delightfully erudite, nimble and associative.
‘An essay or personal reflection should read like a letter to a good friend,’ Goldschmidt himself explains. He effortlessly links biological themes to cultural ones, does not shy away from philosophical and art-historical asides, and keeps his stories light and accessible. The topics of these particular essays are more surprising than ever: our dealings with asylum seekers and stray wolves; the racist subtexts to the search for the yeti, the tribal inspiration of Belgian couturier Walter van Beirendonck, and Congolese art forms. He often alights upon scientific injustices and racial prejudice along the way. Other topics covered are the gory hunting behaviour of the grey shrike, our culturally-determined aversion to eating insects, Jordan Peterson’s dangerous mental error, and the role of shame in Marlene Dumas’s art.
The wolf receives the most attention in these collected epistles. Since young male wolves set off at random to seek out new territories many find themselves in shopping precincts or industrial estates, tracked by CCTV cameras. Goldschmidt comes to the realization that all the fuss about the wolf is often based on mythology and fear. There are countries where wolves, and bears, live with humans without too many issues and where there are actually ecological and health benefits.
‘As an essayist, he is a storyteller who knows that form and content go hand in hand. He is brilliant at subtly shifting emphasis, establishing unexpected relationships and exploding cliched connections […] We laud his earnest abandonment to the pleasure of thinking, associating, observing and studying; the pondering, dwelling and observing that form a basis for his writing.’ P.C. Hooft oeuvre prize
‘A book in which love, vitality and inspiration drips from every page. A book about the richness that nature has to offer, a book which transports and enchants you. It could only have been written by someone possessing the knowledge, authority and talent to dish this all up. In short, a book that excels in its masterful style.’ Jan Wolkers prize for nature-writing