“America’s Alligator,” by Doug Alderson

Doug Alderson

Review by Phil Jason

Author-adventurer Doug Alderson has had a lifelong love for nature, especially that of Florida and the American South. His several books attest to his knowledge and dedication to sharing it. This latest, on the American alligator, is filled with information and enthusiasm. Indeed, it has everything a non-specialist reader would want to know.

Large swaths of the book are historical in nature, melding in attractive ways what is known about the history of this critter and its relationship to the watery places it makes home in Florida and other regions that comprise its natural habitat. We learn about the anatomical animal, its feeding habits, its life cycle, and – most important for the lay reader – its reachable and viewable neighborhoods, the Everglades being a most important one. And yet there are so many Florida rivers whose depths and muddy shores are also alligator homes.

Alderson tells us how to find these locations and tells us with delight what is special about each and every one.

He has stories to tell about – and borrow from – those guides and experts who have enhanced his knowledge and appreciation.

He reminds readers of the cultural status, if you will, of the alligator in many ways. Perhaps the most import and obvious is that so many sports teams, whether grade school, college, or somewhere in between, have the alligator as a mascot whose image is used for loving group identification.

Alderson takes us to the many alligator farms and roadside stands that feature the creature at a safe distance while selling alligator souvenirs and even prepared alligator for our taste buds. Alligator jerky anyone?

And, of course, there is Alligator Alley, the perfect name for the highway crossing the lower peninsula.

Many songwriters’ lyrics have paid attention to the alligator, the best known being those heard on the 1950s hit “See You Later, Alligator.” Alderson can point you to many more: ”Alligator Hop,” “Alligator Blues,” etc.

Alligator-connected lists are everywhere in the book, and the chapter titles illumine the scope of the authors playful research: “To Wrestle an Alligator,” “Baby Alligators for Sale,” and “Reptiles Lurking in the White House” are among the most delightful.

The appeal of this book does not rest only on its effective storytelling and educative power. The illustrations, photographic and otherwise, are dazzling and contribute much to the overall impact of the book. To see the very places and people mentioned, to see the alligator in all its glory, to see the commercial uses of the alligator image – these opportunities are a welcome addition to the text. Himself an accomplished photographer, Alderson has put much hard research and thought into collecting and arranging these fascinating images.

“America’s Alligator” would make a fine gift book for lovers and students of nature. It could also be a core text for formal courses and less formal study groups. And guess what? At the right moments, this book breaks out in highly enjoyable humorous pokes at Florida and alligator folklore. For an enhanced appreciation of some of nature’s many wonders, let Doug Alderson be your guide.

Alderson’s other books include A New Guide to Old Florida Attractions (which placed in the top five of the Florida Writers’ Association’s 2017 book list), The Great Florida Seminole Trail, Encounters with Florida’s Endangered Wildlife, and Waters Less Traveled. He has won four first-place Royal Palm Literary Awards for his travel books. Additionally, his articles and photographs have been featured in such magazines as Sea Kayaker, Wildlife Conservation, and Mother Earth News. Doug lives a bit south of Tallahassee.

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