Book groups that are reading The Beast in the Garden may find the following discussion questions useful:
1. Who or what is “the beast” of the title? What is “the garden”?
2. Boulder is presented as a microcosm of modern America. In what ways is Boulder typical of the nation as a whole? How does it differ?
3. Baron writes that “Boulder’s landscape was not as natural as most residents imagined” (p. 48). What does he mean? Think about your own community. Is it more artificial than people generally realize?
4. Discuss how your opinion of mountain lions changed during the course of the book, from when the lion family showed up at Happy Times (Chapter Three) to when Lynda Walters was chased by two lions on her afternoon run (Chapter Twelve).
5. For most of American history, mountain lions were killed as vermin. Had you been a pioneer in the nineteenth century, would you have supported the slaughter of lions?
6. Teddy Roosevelt, a recurring character in the book, has been called the greatest conservationist president in United States history, yet he enjoyed hunting big game, including cougars. Do you consider him a conservationist by today’s standards?
7. An underlying theme of the book is that, by attracting wildlife into yards, people can cause profound changes in wildlife behavior. Do you think it’s ever okay to feed wildlife? What about feeding birds?
8. At the community meeting in Coal Creek Canyon, after a lion had killed several dogs in the area, one resident commented (pp. 157-58), “It’s a privilege to share this habitat with mountain lions. We need to learn to live with them. They were here first.” What do you think of this statement?
9. Could Scott Lancaster’s death have been prevented? If so, how? Who is most to blame for the tragedy?
10. Discuss what lessons Boulder’s story holds for your own community.