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The Eye of the Mammoth

The Eye of the Mammoth
New and Selected Essays

By the author of the critically acclaimed and best-selling novels The Gates of the Alamo and Remember Ben Clayton, here is the definitive, career-spanning collection of nonfiction from one of America’s leading writers, Stephen Harrigan.

Series: Jack and Doris Smothers Endowment in Texas History, Life, and Culture

October 2019
424 pages | 6 x 9 |

History—natural history, human history, and personal history—and place are the cornerstones of The Eye of the Mammoth. Stephen Harrigan's career has taken him from the Alaska Highway to the Chihuahuan Desert, from the casinos of Monaco to his ancestors' village in the Czech Republic. And now, in this new edition, he movingly recounts in "Off Course" a quest to learn all he can about his father, who died in a plane crash six months before he was born.

Harrigan's deceptively straightforward voice belies an intense curiosity about things that, by his own admission, may be "unknowable." Certainly, we are limited in what we can know about the inner life of George Washington, the last days of Davy Crockett, the motives of a caged tiger, or a father we never met, but Harrigan's gift—a gift that has also made him an award-winning novelist—is to bring readers closer to such things, to make them less remote, just as a cave painting in the title essay eerily transmits the living stare of a long-extinct mammoth.

  • Foreword by Nicholas Lemann
  • Part One: Music in the Desert
    • Morning Light
    • On the Edge
    • The Secret Life of the Beach
    • Going into the Desert
    • Isla del Padre
    • "The Tiger Is God"
    • The Bay
    • Swamp Thing
  • Part Two: Highways and Jungle Paths
    • The Roof of Eden
    • Feeling Flush
    • The Anger of Achilles
    • Rock and Sky
    • The Little Man's Road
    • My Igloo
    • A Secret Door
  • Part Three: The Shadow of History
    • The Temple of Destiny
    • The Man Nobody Knows
    • Comanche Midnight
    • Wolf House
    • The Last Days of David Crockett
    • Taking Care of Lonesome Dove
    • His Fostering Hand
    • The Eye of the Mammoth
    • A Troublous Life
  • Part Four: Where Is My Home?
    • What Texas Means to Me
    • The Soul of Treaty Oak
    • Wish I Were There
    • The Eyesore
    • The Golden Age of Austin
    • Texanic!
    • Fade In, Fade Out
    • Where Is My Home?
  • Acknowledgments

Harrigan is the author of nine books of fiction and nonfiction, among them the critically acclaimed and best-selling novel The Gates of the Alamo, and two previous collections of essays, A Natural State and Comanche Midnight. His most recent novel, Remember Ben Clayton, won the Jesse H. Jones award for best work of fiction from the Texas Institute of Letters and the Spur Award from the Western Writers of America. He is a longtime writer for Texas Monthly, and has contributed articles and essays to a wide variety of other magazines. Harrigan is also an award-winning screenwriter who has written many movies for television.


“Like sitting next to a loquacious, genial and informative passenger on a slow trans-Texas train.”
Kirkus Reviews

“These essays speak with the same acuity and matchless prose that won Harrigan national acclaim in his best-selling novels The Gates of the Alamo (2000) and Remember Ben Clayton (2011); readers of Harrigan’s fiction are sure to find this definitive collection of his nonfiction no less arresting.”

“These pieces convey a deep and rewarding connection with place. Reaching across the history of Texas, both natural and cultural, he creates a paradoxical effect—collapsing the sweeping distances of a vast and varied state while giving its immense particularly its due… Best of all, he has an uncanny knack for ending his essays in exactly the right place, more often than not carrying what would otherwise have been pleasant and serviceable to a stirring and unusually satisfying conclusion.”
Publishers Weekly

“Harrigan has written beautifully about the various natural wonders of the state…Through it all, Harrigan writes with ease, with a straightforward, friendly thoughtfulness that lures you in and makes you wonder how someone can be so nice, so modest, so self-deprecating at times, when it’s obvious that writing as concisely and clearly as he does is quite difficult.”
The Austin American-Statesman

“This exquisite book will make you see the world anew. It is a delight to wander the world with Stephen Harrigan, experiencing through him the vastness of Big Bend, the mysteries of the mummified Ice Man, the absurdities (and successes!) of his Hollywood career. Harrigan is a man of meticulous observation and wit, and The Eye of the Mammoth abundantly provides readers with those pops of pleasure one gets from the perfectly turned phrase. This book amply illustrates that Stephen Harrigan is a national treasure.”
Emily Yoffe, Slate columnist and author of What the Dog Did

“Word by word, book by book, Stephen Harrigan has proven that he’s the best writer Texas has ever produced.”
Lawrence Wright, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

The Eye of the Mammoth is Stephen Harrigan at his best, and Harrigan at his best is one of the great pleasures available to readers of the contemporary essay. Relaxed and conversational in tone, yet always substantive and enlightening, he demonstrates absolute mastery of both the essay form and his fascinating subject matter.”
Daniel Okrent, author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition