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The Last Lost World: Ice Ages, Human Origins, and the Invention of the Pleistoceneby Lydia V Pyne
Synopses & Reviews
An enlightening investigation of the Pleistocene’s dual character as a geologic time—and as a cultural idea
The Pleistocene is the epoch of geologic time closest to our own. It’s a time of ice ages, global migrations, and mass extinctions—of woolly rhinos, mammoths, giant ground sloths, and not least early species of Homo. It’s the world that created ours.
But outside that environmental story there exists a parallel narrative that describes how our ideas about the Pleistocene have emerged. This story explains the place of the Pleistocene in shaping intellectual culture, and the role of a rapidly evolving culture in creating the idea of the Pleistocene and in establishing its dimensions. This second story addresses how the epoch, its Earth-shaping events, and its creatures, both those that survived and those that disappeared, helped kindle new sciences and a new origins story as the sciences split from the humanities as a way of looking at the past.
Ultimately, it is the story of how the dominant creature to emerge from the frost-and-fire world of the Pleistocene came to understand its place in the scheme of things. A remarkable synthesis of science and history, The Last Lost World describes the world that made our modern one.
"Father and daughter historians Lydia Pyne (Drexel University) and Stephen Pyne (Year of the Fires) argue that, in the 19th century, with the development of the notion of the Pleistocene era — from 2.6 million years ago to about 10,000 — 12,000 years ago, toward the end of which Homo sapiens emerged — science split from the humanities because scientists became interested only in collecting data and not constructing narratives, which supply the meaning and moral purpose most people crave. Lydia Pyne, whose first-person account opens the book, lets her background in history color her approach to science. After a brief scientific account of the Pleistocene, the book launches into a historical and philosophical look at how we have articulated the meaning of this geological period. But the analysis fails due partly to academic writing ('The instinct, that is, is to turn evolutionary opportunism into narrative surety and to stiffen phylogenic uncertainty into the crisp lines of story'). But it's also hampered by a confusion between the intent of scientists and the human need for moral understanding of, for instance, what makes us human. This is a difficult book, not well suited to a general audience. (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
An enthralling scientific and cultural exploration of the Ice Age—from the author of How the Canyon Became Grand
From a remarkable father-daughter team comes a dramatic synthesis of science and environmental history—an exploration of the geologic time scale and evolution twinned with the story of how, eventually, we have come to understand our own past.
The Pleistocene is the epoch of geologic time closest to our own. The Last Lost World is an inquiry into the conditions that made it, the themes that define it, and the creature that emerged dominant from it. At the same time, it tells the story of how we came to discover and understand this crucial period in the Earth’s history and what meanings it has for today.
About the Author
Stephen J. Pyne is a professor of history at Arizona State University, a MacArthur Foundation Fellow, and winner of the 1995 Los Angeles Times Robert Kirsch Award for Arts and Letters. His book The Ice was named one of The New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of the Year. His eleven groundbreaking books include the five-volume Cycle of Fire. He lives in Glendale, Arizona.
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