The American writer John Williams (1922-1994) wrote three novels that gained critical acclaim when first published but few sales. Their rediscovery, with the reprinting of Stoner in 2005, led to hundreds of thousands of sales worldwide.
Butcher’s Crossing tells the story of Will Andrews, freshly graduated from Harvard, who goes west to find the wild, natural America he’s only read about in works he studied. In the small town of Butcher’s Crossing he hears the tale of a remote valley teeming with buffalo and joins a small band of hunters who set out in search of it.
It’s a gripping read and has an additional resonance for management educators interested in declining industries, environmentalism and sustainable resources. The buffalo have been over-hunted and are in steep decline. The trade in hides is a vertically integrated monopoly. The only response is to hunt harder and more often.
In addition, one character, a grizzled, laconic hunter called Miller, appears to advocate the case method at Harvard almost fifty years before its introduction. The story is set in 1873.
Here, Will Andrews has asked Miller to tell him about the Wild West. Miller refuses:
‘You sure talk easy, son. You do, for a fact. That what you learn to do at Harvard College?’
For a moment, Andrews stared at him stiffly. Then he smiled. ‘No, sir, I reckon not. At Harvard College, you don’t talk; you just listen.’
‘Sure, now,’ Miller said. ‘That’s reason enough for any man to leave. A body’s got to speak up for his self, once in a while.’