Happy Book Birthday to Chasing the Ghost Bear

Book Birthdays celebrate one year of a book’s life in tweets, reviews, and more. This month we’re saying Happy First Book Birthday to Chasing the Ghost Bear: On the Trail of America’s Lost Super Beast (Bison Books, 2022) by Mike Stark.

About the Book:

No animal shakes the human consciousness quite like a bear, and few compare to the giant short-faced bears that stalked North America during the Pleistocene. Even among the mammoths and saber-toothed cats, they were a staggering sight: on all fours, the biggest would stare a six-foot person in the face and weigh close to a ton. On hind legs they towered more than ten feet, with jaws powerful enough to crush skulls and snap bones like twigs.

Chasing the Ghost Bear is Mike Stark’s journey into the bear’s enigmatic story—its life, disappearance, and rediscovery—and those trying to piece it together today. An engaging guide through his intrepid search, Stark’s story leads us from the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles to a cornfield in Indiana, the far ends of the Arctic, the plains of Texas, and the swamps of Florida.

A Word from the Author:

Bears are often solitary creatures. Writers can be much the same. 

I loved working on Chasing the Ghost Bear, not just my time spent in the field but also hunkered down at home poring over old scientific journals, interview notes and experts’ speculation about the lives of giant short-faced bears, the mighty-but-long-vanished bears of North America. 

Questions and doubts inevitably crept in during periods of restlessness. For me, one of them became: Will anyone really care about an extinct bear that no one remembers and will never be seen again? 

In the year since Chasing the Ghost Bear was published, it’s been gratifying to see people connect with the book and the bear. I’ve heard from paleontologists, nature lovers, bear lovers, and even some filmmakers in the United Kingdom looking for insight about the daily lives of these bears. 

Some connected with the places I traveled—the tar pits in Los Angeles, caves in Northern California, bits of the Midwest and Texas—and others found something in the discussions about the meaning of extinction and loss, be it with wildlife or a loved one. 

Happily, people also sent me photos of bears in their backyards, depictions of bears, news about bears. I liked to think that some of my obsession with bears, spurred by generations of those who came before me, had now rubbed off on others in whatever small way. 

Perhaps most satisfying is that readers who had never heard of the giant short-faced bear—and, really, that’s most people—have now added it to the suite of animals they imagine when they think about life during the Pleistocene in North America. There’s a small measure of justice knowing Arctodus simus might be finding its way back into our collective memory alongside mammoths, mastodons, sabertooth cats and dire wolves. 

What’s better than no longer being forgotten? 


Reading the West Longlist for Nonfiction


“A must have for anyone with an interest in prehistoric bears!” – The Birdbooker Report

“Readers with an interest in paleontology, zoology, or ecology will find this book fascinating. Those unfamiliar with these disciplines may find their curiosity piqued…” – Lincoln Journal Star

“This book is journalism at its best.”—Vernon Schmid, RoundUp Magazine

“Thank heavens for Mike Stark for rummaging around in creepy caves, unearthing remote museum curators, and otherwise doing the far-flung homework needed to bring us this compelling elegy to one of prehistoric North America’s most spectacular carnivores.”—Paul Schullery, author of Lewis and Clark among the Grizzlies and The Bear Doesn’t Know


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