Synopses & Reviews
Until about 13,000 years ago, North America was home to a menagerie of massive mammals. Mammoths, camels, and lions walked the ground that has become Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles and foraged on the marsh land now buried beneath Chicago's streets. Then, just as the first humans reached the Americas, these Ice Age giants vanished forever.
In Once and Future Giants, science writer Sharon Levy digs through the evidence surrounding Pleistocene large animal ("megafauna") extinction events worldwide, showing that understanding this history — and our part in it — is crucial for protecting the elephants, polar bears, and other great creatures at risk today. These surviving relatives of the Ice Age beasts now face an intensified replay of that great die-off, as our species usurps the planet's last wild places while driving a warming trend more extreme than any in mammalian history.
Inspired by a passion for the lost Pleistocene giants, some scientists advocate bringing elephants and cheetahs to the Great Plains as stand-ins for their extinct native brethren. By reintroducing big browsers and carnivores to North America, they argue, we could rescue some of the planet's most endangered animals while restoring healthy prairie ecosystems. Critics, including biologists enmeshed in the struggle to restore native species like the gray wolf and the bison, see the proposal as a dangerous distraction from more realistic and legitimate conservation efforts.
Deftly navigating competing theories and emerging evidence, Once and Future Giants examines the extent of human influence on megafauna extinctions past and present, and explores innovative conservation efforts around the globe. The key to modern-day conservation, Levy suggests, may lie fossilized right under our feet.
"Once and Future Giants beautifully connects the world as we know it to one that, on a geological scale, disappeared only yesterday. We still understand so little about the natural history of the animals that went extinct, and a nuanced view in which both humans and climate change played significant roles in the decline of many species is beginning to emerge, but, for the moment, Levy's book effectively states the case for those who want to heal ecological wounds thought to have been opened by prehistoric humans." Brian Switek, Wired
About the Author
is a freelance science writer who specializes in making natural resource and conservation issues accessible for a broad audience. She is a contributing editor at OnEarth
magazine and writes regularly for National Wildlife, BioScience
, and New Scientist
. Her work has appeared in Nature, Natural History, Audubon, High Country News
, and Discovery Channel Online
. She lives in Humboldt County, California.
Table of Contents
1. Elegy for the Mastodon
2. Mammoth Tracks
3. Giants Down Under
4. Wild Dreams
5. Wild Realities
6. The Big Heat
7. Dead Beasts Walking