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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Going, going...
No one with an interest in the natural world can fail to be captivated by the giant mammals that recently walked the earth. Whether it's the wooly rhino, giant ground sloth or the iconic mammoth, these were amazing beasts. A bit of reflection will show that we are still surrounded by megafauna. Lions, ostriches, hippos and horses are equally strange and wonderful...
Published on February 6, 2011 by Personne

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3.0 out of 5 stars Would have liked, for example
Some new material, however mostly the same theme throughout the entire book...extremely repetitive. Would have liked, for example, why the animals of this period were so large.....
Published 14 days ago by Rebecca S. Warren


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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Going, going..., February 6, 2011
By 
Personne (Rocky Mountain West) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Once and Future Giants: What Ice Age Extinctions Tell Us About the Fate of Earth's Largest Animals (Hardcover)
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No one with an interest in the natural world can fail to be captivated by the giant mammals that recently walked the earth. Whether it's the wooly rhino, giant ground sloth or the iconic mammoth, these were amazing beasts. A bit of reflection will show that we are still surrounded by megafauna. Lions, ostriches, hippos and horses are equally strange and wonderful.

Sharon Levy's book begins and ends with the mammoth. These elephants covered much of the earth, a few of them lasting into the age of the pyramids. There is still tremendous dispute over what caused their end. There's no doubt that humans played a role, but the extent of that role isn't clear. To some, it was humans all the way: to others, humans played only a minor part. In the case of more recent extinctions--the moa, the thylacines, the dodo--there's no doubt at all.

The central section of the book is concerned with the preservation and the restoration of wild habitats. The most controversial of these approaches is 'rewilding', the re-creation of near Pleistocene environments using relatives of extinct animals. The more enthusiastic proponents would like to see lions, elephants and camels restored to the American west. As the reader may expect, there's no political support for such an approach. Accidental forms of rewilding have already happened: wild horses returned to America just a few hundred years ago. Camels were introduced to Australia even more recently. In both cases, the absence of predators has caused populations to exceed the carrying capacity of the land. Levy illustrates how our fear of other top predators (we're top predators ourselves) may doom these approaches. Top predators not only do the obvious by culling herds of large herbivores. They also control smaller predators who would otherwise decimate many smaller species. We have made a world with little remaining room for them.

There is a theme to this very good book. That theme shows how interrelated and how integrated an ecosystem must be. The explosion of one animal (elk in Yellowstone, for example) can impede dozens of other species. The re-introduction of the wolf has helped to restore the aspen--that's not an obvious outcome. The explosion of humans and our enormous impact on the environment now presents us with the problem of how we might save the megafauna. In doing so, perhaps we save ourselves as well.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Primer to the Near Time and Present Extinctions, a Must Read for Nature Lovers, February 28, 2011
This review is from: Once and Future Giants: What Ice Age Extinctions Tell Us About the Fate of Earth's Largest Animals (Hardcover)
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I first read about Paul Martin's mega-fauna overkill theory in the mid 90's and it was electric in its elegance. The correlating arrival of humans and mass extinction of large animals is strikingly consistent. Since then his theories and the idea of missing mega-faunal pieces in our landscapes has been handled many times in books like The Ghosts of Evolution: Nonsensical Fruit, Missing Partners, and Other Ecological Anachronisms, The Call of Distant Mammoths: Why The Ice Age Mammals Disappeared and Twilight of the Mammoths:: Ice Age Extinctions and the Rewilding of America (Organisms and Environments), but none is more succinct in connecting the extinctions at the end of the last ice age to our current ideas of conservation as this book.

The author's writing is clear and enjoyable to read. (on a side note, she has some of the best chapter seques I've seen.) Her exploration of the Overkill debate and Pleistocene extinctions seems even-handed, perhaps leaning in favor of Overkill as a leading factor. She skillfully builds a foundation of understanding before moving into the current day conservation implications. It is a perfect layman's primer for the Pleistocene extinctions and the ecological results.

Perhaps the biggest thing that earlier books didn't have was the Yellowstone wolf reintroduction. I don't think anyone foresaw the profound changes that introduction of a missing ecosystem component could have. The changes of biodiversity and plant communities were shocking and have made the idea of reintroducing absent megafauna even more vivid. Levy does a good job of covering this ongoing experiment.

Also, I am impressed by the many other real world examples Levy provides to explore rewilding. From condors to tortoises to wild mustangs she shows the potential and issues of megafaunal reintroduction or loss. Also, along the way she does an excellent job of describing a multitude of issues of ecology like island biogeography, the importance of wildlife corridors and the malleability of ecosystems in general. Perhaps this books greatest contribution is connecting the extinctions of the past to the realities of current conservation efforts.

The bulk of this book has been covered in other books and articles, but this book can stand proudly amongst them. If you are a fan of nature or ecology and haven't read about overkill or rewilding, you need to read this book. While Overkill may ultimately be unproveable and rewilding may be politically impossible to implement, the concepts are profoundly eye-opening. I highly recommend this book.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Generally very good, but with some questionable current specifics, February 22, 2011
By 
jd103 (beautiful places) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Once and Future Giants: What Ice Age Extinctions Tell Us About the Fate of Earth's Largest Animals (Hardcover)
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This was a very interesting book ranging from an exploration of theories about the causes of the extinction of the large mammals of the Pleistocene to the possibilities of bringing them back via substitution or genetic engineering. The primary locations examined are North America and Australia, but other areas are also examined. The hope is that we can learn from past extinctions to prevent species currently in danger from also becoming extinct.

Since I work in Yellowstone much of the year, I found a short section about wolves and elk in that area particularly interesting. Possibly the book will be updated before publication, but the advance copy contains some information which may no longer be accurate. Research published last fall questions earlier studies cited in the book that the reintroduction of wolves has improved the growth of aspen due to less elk browsing. The book also mentions that the elk population on the park's northern range has been declining an average of 8% annually since wolf reintroduction, but the count released last month showed a large 25% drop to a record low elk population. In part due to that and the lingering issue of delisting wolves, conflict is actually increasing in the area and the Montana House took the absurd action last week of overwhelmingly voting to nullify the Endangered Species Act. Things aren't looking too good at the moment for Future Giants in that area, or even for the predators already there.

Despite these reservations, I found the broad subject of the book very interesting and expect that I will reread it someday. I still haven't made up my mind on what caused those Pleistocene extinctions.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent..., February 26, 2011
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This review is from: Once and Future Giants: What Ice Age Extinctions Tell Us About the Fate of Earth's Largest Animals (Hardcover)
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Theories surrounding the extinction of megafauna (mastodonts, wooly mammoths, saber tooth tigers, and many more) have had difficulty distinguishing climate change (eg post glacial, not modern) and human intervention as the primary cause. For example, in North America, post galcial warming was also responsible for opening up the dry valleys that enabled human migration from Asia. Conversely, it is hard to imagine that humans armed with little more than pointy sticks could wipe out entire megafauna species across an entire continent.

Sharon Levy is a well known and respected science writer (OnEarth, Nature, Audubon etc) and in this book she covers the evident for and against each theory based on research done around the globe. The coverage is quite extraordinary and is based on visits and interviews with the researchers themselves. So you will read about research done in Africa, Siberia, and Australia. (National Geographis had a very nice article on the Australian marsupial megafauna in the Oct 2010 issue with many photos and illustrations including persons and locations memntioned in this book.)

Research with historic artifacts is difficult and I have to say seemed a bit 'soft'. That is, a great deal of theoretical hypotheses surrounding the few hard fact available. But of course the artifacts are 14,000 to 45,000 years old and the inherent inaccuracy in dating of megafauna remains and human artifacts makes it difficult to assign a cause-effect relationship with certainty.

What really pleased me was the discussion of many of the modern re-wilding efforts, especially the re-introduction of wolves into Yellowstone. The changes to the environment due to the introduction of wolves are well documented and often surprising. How the wolves are responsible for the return of several tree species, birds, and the survival of beaver is truely enlightening. This re-wilding is sufficiently new to preclude any 'final' conclusions regarding these changes. They certainly illustrate the extensive changes brought about by the re-introduction of a single species. This real, modern data really helps elucidate the challenges of the Pleistocene data. (There was a Nova program on this which aired in 1997; this book provides updated information.)

Topic well covered, engagingly written by an experienced science writer. An easy 5 stars!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Once and Future Giants, February 12, 2011
By 
Stephen Balbach (Ashton, MD United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Once and Future Giants: What Ice Age Extinctions Tell Us About the Fate of Earth's Largest Animals (Hardcover)
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13,000 years ago there was a die-off of large animals in North America - lions, camels, horses, sloths. No one knows for sure why but there are at least four theories, including human-caused, since the extinctions coincided with the first arrival of people on the continent. Similar extinctions of megafauna happened elsewhere: Australia, New Zealand, Madagascar, also coinciding with the arrival of people. It is now becoming clear the loss of large animals, in particular top predators, has changed ecosystems making them less diverse. In places like the Arctic large herds of mammoths and other creatures once turned it into a lush grassland, but with their absence it is today a boggy mossy marsh with consequences for global warming. Some believe that by restoring the big creatures of the Pleistocene, including top predators or their modern equivalents, is one path to restoring balance to the environment.

Sharon Levy's fascinating book examines theories about what caused the extinctions of the late Pleistocene, ideas about re-wilding, and current projects around the world to re-wild megafauna. Much of this material was already known to me in outline and is not new, but Levy presents detailed case examples from past and present as well as more nuanced understanding of the theories. For example early humans probably didn't "blitzkrieg" animals into immediate extinction, rather because the big animals are so long-lived and re-create slowly, and because of already heavy predatory pressure, it only took a small number of additional human predators to tip the balance towards declining populations and eventual extinction. It happened quickly in geologic time but slowly for those who experienced it (except in New Zealand which saw the extinction of the Moa in about 20 years).

One of the key points of the book is that top predators are vital to a healthy ecosystem. This is a controversial area, there are ongoing battles over wolves in the American West and in Europe, typically with political conservatives against the wolf and in favor or farmers. As well Levy suggests, by way of ancient examples, that humans play an important role, nature should not be "left alone" in isolated parks, but actively managed with controlled burns and other methods. By looking to the past we have much to learn about the present and future in how to best care for the land, planet and ultimately the people who live on it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good introductory book on the theories of Ice Age Exinctions, May 25, 2011
By 
Bill Hensler (Holt, Michigan United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Once and Future Giants: What Ice Age Extinctions Tell Us About the Fate of Earth's Largest Animals (Hardcover)
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This reviewer does not normally read this type of book. I generally stick to history or technical writings on aircraft. However, that said I was pleasantly surprised by this book.

Sharon Levy is well known and respected science writer in the publications of OnEarth, Nature, Audubon, among others and in this book she covers the evidence for and against each presented theory of extinction based on research done around the globe. The writing is quite good and is based on visits or interviews with the researchers themselves. The research was done in Africa, Siberia, and Australia with supporting evidence of how this supports the various theories of extinction.

There are many theories about the extinction of megafauna of mastodons, wooly mammoths, saber tooth tigers, and other animals. This reviewer's can see how these theories have difficulty distinguishing the post glacial climate change and human intervention as the primary cause. For example, in North America, post glacial warming was also responsible for opening up the dry valleys that enabled human migration from Asia. This review thinks all humans are extremely efficient killing machines and would have had not much of a problem destroying the megafauna. So, I accept the speculation that humans were largely responsible for that extinction period. A hunter with an Atlatl, a spear throwing tool dating well before 30,000 BCE, could have hit megafauna with ease.

Research with historic artifacts is difficult due to the fact most of the items were made of wood, bone, or stone. That is, a great deal of theoretical hypotheses surrounding somewhat few hard facts available. But of course the artifacts are 14,000 to 45,000 years old and the inherent inaccuracy in dating of megafauna's remains and human artifacts makes it difficult to assign a cause-effect relationship with great certainty.

What the reviewer like was the discussion of many of the modern re-wilding efforts, especially the re-introduction of wolves into Yellowstone. The changes to the environment due to the introduction of wolves are well documented. The wolves, through their hunting and natural behavior, are responsible for the return of several tree species, birds, and the survival of beaver. The unchecked moose and elk were wreaking ecological havoc in Yellowstone. The re-introduction program does illustrate the extensive changes brought about by the re-introduction of a single species. This real time and modern data on species introduction really helps clarify the challenges of the interpreting Pleistocene data.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Megafauna, extinctions, and related matters, December 31, 2012
By 
ollb (Spearfish, SD USA) - See all my reviews
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The author begins with mastodons and mammoths, proceeds onward to Australian marsupial giants, the Moa, reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone, and any number of issues related to megafauna - past extinctions, currently endangered species, etc. She passes along an interesting definition of megafauna as any animal weighing 97 pounds or more in adulthood - thus encompassing the majority of humans. She speculates on extinction causes - humans, climate change, even an unlikely relatively recent comet. She presents the arguments fairly and does not reach dogmatic conclusions but leaves the reader with evidence to ponder. She treats the possibility of DNA cloning of the extinct, explains the obstacles, and feels it unlikely any time soon if ever. She does not venture very far into the past, you will find nothing about dinosaurs. All in all a very interesting book and easy to read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating look at extinction and re-wilding, September 16, 2011
This review is from: Once and Future Giants: What Ice Age Extinctions Tell Us About the Fate of Earth's Largest Animals (Hardcover)
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Ever since I was a child I was fascinated by the ancient, extinct mammals that used to roam the Americas. I found them as captivating as the dinosaurs, and their proximity in time to the present, and the lack of information about them made them even more compellingly interesting. So I am the perfect demographic for this book about the extinction and possible reintroduction of stand-ins--even of genetically retro-engineered versions of those mammals.

What a book it is--beautifully written, moving smoothly between topics: from a balanced discussion of the causes of 'mega-fauna' extinction to the consequences of the re-introduction of wolves to the West, to ancient Australian marsupials and much more. Levy presents both sides of the various arguments, and while I felt that she favored particular viewpoints she was careful to show alternative possibilities and not denigrate them, as long as they have scientific validity backed up by evidence. Even the extremely controversial topic of re-wilding--introducing surrogates of extinct mastodons, saber-toothed cats, etc.--was presented rationally with pros and cons and an understanding of the practical and political issues also.

While I very much enjoyed Once and Future Giants, I was bothered by one significant issue; the constant references to 'mega-fauna'. The term is not even defined until the final chapter of the book (as animals weighing 97 lbs or more--and no rationale for this seemingly arbitrary measure is given. Can it simply be because of the expression "97 pound weakling"? I hope there is a more scientifically-based rationale!) Admittedly, withholding the explanation allows Levy an impactful final sentence--SPOILER ALERT--"The megafauna is us." But it also prevents a more thorough discussion of 'megafauna' as a category--does it even make sense to lump giant tortoises, woolly rhinos, and moas into a single group, which should also include whales, dinosaurs, tigers, and saltwater crocodiles. This category crosses eras, includes creatures living on every continent and ocean, and would separate otherwise related species--one type of antelope might be megafauna where another would not. And yes, it includes humans. Such categorization leads to assumptions that may not be true--if 'megafauna' have gone extinct, then there must be a reason; and since megafauna are a single category, it makes sense that there is a single reason for the extinction, whether it be human expansion or global climate change. But when considering the individual species, there is no reason to start with this assumption. And in fact, the 'megafauna' as a category have not gone extinct at all, but are wildly successful--in the form of humanity. In the context of this book, which is balanced and evidence-based, this is not an egregious error--but examples of poorly thought-out presentations suffering from these assumptions do exist--just watch Discovery's What Killed the Mega-Beasts? Levy's work is far more significant and substantial than that lightweight fare, and I recommend it highly.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You can't help but love the extinct mastodon!, September 4, 2011
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This review is from: Once and Future Giants: What Ice Age Extinctions Tell Us About the Fate of Earth's Largest Animals (Hardcover)
Very well written, totally recommended. It is about such a heart-breaking fact (how humans have exterminated most of the cool animals that used to live on this planet), that you can't help but feeling honestly sad and angry.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A super-size story, May 13, 2011
By 
Jaylia3 (Silver Spring, MD United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Once and Future Giants: What Ice Age Extinctions Tell Us About the Fate of Earth's Largest Animals (Hardcover)
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Less than 15,000 years ago in an era that scientists refer to as "near time", humans roamed the earth with megafauna like woolly mammoths, 8 foot long beavers and enormous saber tooth cats. These were creatures our ancestors knew intimately, and in Europe and Asia they made vivid cave paintings of the giant beasts. Then, seemingly all at once, most of the animals disappeared. The ones that survived shrank. Was it climate change? Human hunting? In this awe inspiring book Author Sharon Levy does a thorough job examining all sides of the extinction debate and the people involved in trying to solve the mystery. The answers might hold lessons for preserving today's large animals, like elephants, tigers, bears, wolves and kangaroos. Since megafauna can have a beneficial impact on the environment, some scientists go as far as promoting "rewilding", which in the American west would involve reintroducing the ancestors of formerly native Pleistocene animals like lions, elephants and camels. Others want to use the newly decoded woolly mammoth genome to bring them back to life with the help of modern elephants, their closest living cousins. While we may never have lions prowling the Great Plains again, this book is both informative and surprisingly thrilling.
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Once and Future Giants: What Ice Age Extinctions Tell Us About the Fate of Earth's Largest Animals
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