A sweeping natural history of North America from its birth as a self-contained continent in the Cretaceous era to its current precarious status as an ecological superpower.
Australian mammologist Flannery (Throwim Way Leg, 1999) writes a lively account of an ever-changing landscape of deserts, tropical forests, and creeping ice sheets—a land where elephants, camels, giant pigs, and other creatures appear, thrive, move on, or become extinct. He divides his drama into five acts, the first spanning the period from 66 to 59 million years ago. His story opens just before an asteroid smashes into Earth near the Yucatán Peninsula, ending the age of the dinosaurs and launching the rise of large mammals. In act two, from 57 to 33 million years ago, the climate warms, land bridges to Europe and Asia appear and disappear, and animals from North America invade Europe. Act three covers the period from 32 million to 13,000 years ago, a time of wild fluctuations in climate and dramatic changes in the continent’s plant and animal life. Act four begins with the migration of humans from Asia and the disappearance of its largest land mammals and ends with the arrival of Columbus. In the final act, European immigrants move in and expand across the continent, decimating the native human and animal populations, and replacing much of the native flora with planted crops. Flannery, who knows how to make paleontology, geology, climatology, and anthropology accessible to all, has even provided an unusually entertaining table of contents. In the final chapters, however, the knowledgeable ecological historian takes on a sharper tone. He is clearly dismayed by what he sees happening (“ruthless exploitation, greed, and senseless environmental destruction”) as he catalogs what we have done to our continent's natural resources.
Natural history par excellence.