Gator Country: Deception, Danger, and Alligators in the Everglades (Hardcover)
A New York Times Editors' Choice
"Delivers everything its title promises and much more." - NPR
"Remarkable... Every species, and every person who fights for its continued existence, deserves a book like this." — The New York Times
"This nail-biter account has the intensity of the best true crime... A high-def tale that ensnares you from the start." —People
David Grann meets Susan Orlean in this page-turning true story of an underground operation into the mysterious world of alligator poaching and its larger than life Floridian characters
To catch a Florida Man, you have to become one, and that’s what Officer Jeff Babauta did. As his ponytailed, whiskey-soaked alter ego, he established Sunshine Alligator Farm. His goal? Infiltrate the shady world of illegal poachers in the Florida Everglades in order to protect the natural world.
A head-spinning adventure soon unfolds. Jeff deals with glow-in-the-dark alligators and high-speed airboat rides, but quickly learns that not all poachers are villains. They’re simply people trying to survive, fighting against the poverty and greed holding them down. Jeff wants to solve the mystery of alligator poachers, and in doing so he must venture deeper into a strange ecosystem where right is wrong, and justice comes at the cost of those who’ve welcomed him into their world.
Gator Country is the twisting true story of the impossible choices individuals must make to stay afloat in this world. Through its wholly unique blend of reporting, nature writing, and personal narrative, this book transports readers to vibrant and dangerous Florida landscapes and offers intimate portraits of those who call the region home. Broad in scope and vivid in detail, Gator Country is a fast paced tale of the risks people will take to survive in one of the world's most beautiful yet formidable landscapes and the undercover investigation that threatens to topple the whole scheme.
A New York Times Editors' Choice
Best Nonfiction of 2023, BookPage
Best Reviewed Nonfiction Books of November 2023, Lit Hub
Best Nonfiction of 2023, Amazon
Best Books of 2023, Christian Science Monitor
Best Books of 2023, Tampa Bay Times
Must-Read Nonfiction of 2023, Chicago Public Library
Best Florida Books of 2023, Tampa Bay Creative Loafing
"Renner's debut is self-assured and full of poetry, and it will change Florida in the eyes of everyone who reads it." - NPR
"This nail-biter account...has the intensity of the best true crime...A high-def tale that ensnares you from the start." —People, Book of the Week
"Renner gives the remarkable nature of South Florida, as well as the often hardscrabble folk whose families have lived there for generations, the love and respect they deserve... Every species, and every person who fights for its continued existence, deserves a book like this — a book that explores the complexity of the nexus between humans and animals and the exploitation of the wild, and considers the ambiguities of our fractured relationship to nature, morality and history." — The New York Times
"Captivating...What lifts Renner’s work out of the true-crime muck is her devotion to presenting the natural world in all its glory — and humanity in all its frequent opposite of that. She never lets the thrill of the sting take away from the poverty-driven reality that poaching is usually a crime of sustenance...[An] exceptional work." —Washington Post
"Gator Country is a book for anyone looking for the juicy mess of reality in pages so suspenseful they read like fiction. In the end, Renner writes about the blurry morality of the law, friendships, betrayal, loyalty, and family, all while expertly building toward the crescendo of the true villain’s reveal, all of which gives way to an incredible ride and a riveting read." — The Florida Review
"Renner weaves together the often thrilling true-crime story of the undercover operation with her own investigation of Peg Brown. Gator Country is also, in parts, a memoir and a loving natural history of the irreplaceable Everglades." — The Tampa Bay Times
"Renner is a natural storyteller, and she does service to wild Florida, igniting an answering passion in the reader." — The Orlando Weekly
"I dare you to stop reading!" — The Coastal Star
"The fast-paced narrative is imbued with the atmosphere of tension that shapes any good mystery story... [Renner] sketches a vivid portrait of the scraggly splendor of the land and its tenacious hold on life in a world that often fails to see its beauty." — BookPage
"Come for the you’ll-never-believe facts and an exploration of man vs. myth. Stay for the history and dive into communities." — Book Riot
"Part true-crime story, part memoir, part hymn to “nature’s savage beauty,” Gator Country makes for a rewarding reading experience." -- Christian Science Monitor
"Readers of this book are in for an adventure. It reads like a true-crime caper...Audiences of all types will appreciate this easy-to-read narrative as well as Renner’s knowledge of the area, her academic ability, her candor, and her insights into human nature." — Steve Dixon, Library Journal
"An astounding story about an alligator-poaching operation in the Florida Everglades. [Renner] probes the nature of crime and human character, while also mining the far-reaching consequences of what it truly takes to survive—in the wild and in society..... Her propulsive narrative reads as suspensefully as a well-wrought mystery novel as she uncovers an exciting true story rife with shocking twists and turns that will educate, enlighten, and enthrall her audience." — Kathleen Gerard, Shelf Awareness
"Fascinating...Renner teases out the moral ambiguities with a grace and rigor reminiscent of Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief. Beautifully evoking the 'sawgrass plains and wild strands of jungle' of its author’s home state, this tale of power, politics, and tradition is a triumph." — Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Combining her skills for investigative reporting, nature writing, and personal anecdotes, Renner explores local folklore and legends, shares her personal experiences and observations... Renner’s passion for her home state, compassion for those less fortunate, and gift of storytelling make this book difficult to put down. Enlightening and full of suspense." — Kirkus, starred review
"This smart, nimble page turner will leave you more thoughtful about why we mythicize alligators, eat their flesh, wear their hide, and protect their population. It will leave you reexamining the complicated nature of both the species and those who illegally hunt them. Most of all, it will leave you wanting more from Rebecca Renner." — Jack E. Davis, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Gulf and The Bald Eagle.
"Renner has a dandy story and a great, mythic figure to hang it on: a poaching legend named Peg Brown, who hunted illegally in the late 20th century but whose poaching may have helped the environment. Renner also helps us understand that alligators are animals that can inspire fear, but ultimately deserve our thanks and care." — Chris Hewitt, The Minneapolis Star Tribune
"In this fascinating blend of true crime and science reporting, Rebecca Renner’s Gator Country tracks Jeff Babauta, an unassuming undercover conservation agent who risks it all to infiltrate an alligator poaching operation in the treacherous Florida wetlands. Told with fierce loyalty to nature and compassion for humans, Renner’s Gator Country delivers all the suspense and subterfuge of a le Carré novel. It’ll even make you love alligators." — Erika Krouse, award-winning author of Tell Me Everything: The Story of a Private Investigation
"Gator Country brims with energy, confidence, and all the hallmarks of a true-life thriller, but Rebecca Renner's unique talent is her keen skill at bringing her characters to life and giving their motivations full color and context. The result is poignant and wonderful. Gator Country isn't just a thrill for thrill's sake, but a generous, thoughtful exploration of what it means for all of us to live in a habitat of predators. Rebecca Renner is a true talent." — Adam Chandler, author of Drive-Thru Dreams
"A gorgeously rendered ode to the wild characters - both human and animal - of Renner's native Florida, Gator Country takes a deep dive into the fascinatingly blurry line that can exist between poachers and conservationists operating in our own backyards." — Rachel Nuwer, author of Poached
"In Gator Country, Rebecca Renner takes us deep into the Florida swamps, where an undercover agent chases a ring of alligator poachers. From dimly lit backcountry bars where outlaws spin wild yarns, to the reptile farm where the agent feeds fish guts to alligators, Renner shows us a hidden Florida that's changing quickly." —Murray Carpenter, author of Caffeinated
"This astonishing book moves as fast as a hungry gator slicing through the water! Rebecca Renner spins an incredible only-in-Florida true-crime tale that's a must-read for anyone who cares about protecting our environment." — Craig Pittman, author of Oh, Florida!