Tim Flannery's The Eternal Frontier is the ground-breaking sequel to The Future Eaters, which changed the way we think about ecological history.
Now Flannery tells the astonishing story of North America from the day 65 million years ago when a meteor ten kilometres wide smashed into the Gulf of Mexico, ending the age of dinosaurs and devastating the continent.
As he traces the rebirth of North America's animals, plants, climate and landforms, Flannery ranges from Alaska in the frozen north to Panama in the tropical south. He gives a fascinating account of how its diverse peoples have changed its environment, especially after the arrival of Columbus in 1492.
This is a sweeping survey of a frontier, which has offered seemingly inexhaustible resources to countless generations of animal and human immigrants.
'No one before Flannery, so far as I know, has been brave enough to tackle the whole pageant of North America…to explain America, in the largest sense, to Americans-and to everyone else.' New York Times Book Review
If Nature itself has a nature, it's the desire for balance. In a fascinating chronicle of our continent's evolution, Flannery shows, however, that this desire must forever be frustrated. Flannery starts his tale with the asteroid collision that destroyed the dinosaurs, ends with the almost equally cataclysmic arrival of humankind and fills the middle with an engaging survey of invaders from other lands, wild speciation and an ever-changing climate, all of which have kept the ecology of North America in a constant state of flux. We see the rise of horses, camels and dogs (cats are Eurasian), the rapid extinction of mammoths, mastodons and other megafauna at the hands of prehistoric man, and the even quicker extinction of the passenger pigeon and other creatures more recently. Flannery also spotlights plenty of scientists at work, most notably one who tries to butcher an elephant as a prehistoric man would have butchered a mastodon, and another who had the intestinal fortitude to check whether meat would keep if a carcass were stored at the bottom of a frigid pond, the earliest of refrigerators. This material might be dense and academic in another's hands, but Flannery displays a light touch, a keen understanding of what will interest general readers and a good sense of structure, which keeps the book moving, manageable and memorable.