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Locust the Devastating Rise & Mysteriousby Jeffrey A Lockwood
"Jeffrey A. Lockwood's Locust is aimed at the general reader with an interest in science and natural history, and it tells the story of a mystery. Who killed the Rocky Mountain locust?...Lockwood teases the reader with the possibility that Melanoplus spretus may still persist in Yellowstone National Park. An identifiable specimen would set the seal on this remarkable piece of acridological detective work." A. W. Harvey, The Times Literary Supplement (read the entire Times Literary Supplement review)
Synopses & Reviews
Throughout the nineteenth century, swarms of locusts regularly swept across the contment, turning noon into dusk, demolishing farm communities, and bringing trains to a halt as the crushed bodies of insects greased the rails. In 1876, the U.S. Congress declared the locust "the single greatest impediment to the settlement of the country."
From the Dakotas to Texas, from California to Iowa, the swarms pushed thousands of settlers to the brink of starvation, prompting the federal government to enlist some of the greatest scientific minds of the day and thereby jumpstarting the fledgling science of entomology. Over the next few decades, the Rocky Mountain locust suddenly — and mysteriously — vanished. A century later, Jeffrey Lockwood set out to discover why.
Unconvinced by the reigning theories, he searched for new evidence in musty books, crumbling maps, and crevassed glaciers, eventually piecing together the elusive answer: A group of early settlers unwittingly destroyed the locust's sanctuaries just as the insect was experiencing a natural population crash. Drawing on historical accounts and modern science, Locust brings to life the cultural, economic, and political forces at work in America in the late-nineteenth century, even as it solves one of the greatest ecological mysteries of our time.
"There's no dearth of eye-opening facts in this mostly fascinating, occasionally daunting, story of scientific sleuthing. Among them: North America is now the only inhabited continent without a locust species; in the years of greatest plague, 1874 — 1877, voracious swarms devoured half of America's annual agricultural production; the vast infestation of 1875 comprised perhaps 3.5 trillion locusts, an incomprehensible biomass stacked as much as half a mile high, 110 miles wide and 1,800 miles long; and (Fear Factor fans, take note) locusts, along with grasshoppers and crickets, were touted by one early entomologist as a nutritiously efficient food source. Lockwood (Grasshopper Dreaming), who fancies himself the Columbo of this particular disappearing-bug mystery, sometimes loses his lay readers in the fussiness of scientific methodology and the minutiae of genus nomenclature — including why the still-extant grasshopper is not a locust (however, the aside, 'We spend a lot of time peering at grasshopper penises,' does cut nicely through the fog of jargon). His account details years of combing crumbling archives, dissecting desiccated specimens and finally drilling into fast-melting Rocky Mountain glaciers to retrieve slushy locust body parts — an obsessive quest to discover why a species unexpectedly vanished a century ago in just a few years. This is a compelling work of popular science and ecological conjecture, buttressed smartly by an observant cultural, political, agricultural and economic history of 19th-century frontier America. (May)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[P]rose as bright as a song....[Lockwood's] clearly articulated theory, as complex but lovely as a quadrille, has gained wide acceptance. A smart piece of natural history that spills over into social, political, and scientific commentary." Kirkus Reviews
Book News Annotation:
As an entomologist, Lockwood (natural sciences and humanities, U. of Wyoming) found the explanation of the Rocky Mountain locust's extinction ecologically implausible, and reopened the case, at first for entirely objective reasons and using purely professional methods. But the story was embedded in the history of the US west and entangled with a number of controversies.
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
The story of America's most extraordinary insect, brilliantly recounted by the scientist who solved the mystery of its extinction
Carefully retracing a lesser-known American extinction story, a scientist reconstructs the disappearance of the dreaded locust from American shores, diving into the historical record for evidence of the role of early settlers in destroying this legendary creature. 40,000 first printing.
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