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Twilight of the Mammoths:: Ice Age Extinctions and the Rewilding of America (Organisms and Environments) Paperback – May 8, 2007


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Paleontologist Martin delivers an energetic and highly entertaining look at one of the most controversial issues in his field of geoscience: overkill, the argument that "virtually all extinctions of wild animals in the last 50,000 years are anthropogenic, that is, caused by humans" and not by climate change. As one of the leading advocates of this theory, Martin uses his own extensive research—as well as amusing insights from his personal life and career—to make his case. He draws on studies from Costa Rica and Madagascar to California and the Grand Canyon, and brings alive on the page such extinct creatures as mammoths, mastodons and the "gentle giant" ground sloths, which he shows were present in North America before the arrival of prehistoric people. He is quite fair in presenting opposing arguments and displays his ability to explain complex concepts in understandable ways. But while Martin is convincing in his reasoning and his suggestions for developing new ecological parks to increase our appreciation of the lost beasts, what is most memorable is his ability to show that "we are half blind if we behold the Grand Canyon without visions" of its extinct species. 17 b&w photos, 12 line drawings. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Once upon a time--say 13,000 years ago--armadillos the size of small cars, sloths the size of bull elephants, and lizards as large as school buses roamed the earth. Tyrannosaurus rex was toast, but other giant species of mammals, reptiles, and birds populated the planet in staggering numbers. And then Homo sapiens came along, and one by one these great beasts disappeared. Early humans hunted to excess, destroyed animal habitats, and introduced alien species and diseases into a once pristine wilderness. Sound familiar? This, in the simplest of terms, is paleontologist Martin's controversial "overkill" theory of megafauna extinction, one he has devoted the last 50 years of his life to resolving. Balancing scientific data with scintillating tales of archaeological adventures, Martin presents a sometimes cautionary tale in which he urges the celebration of these extinct marvels as a way of not only appreciating the vast biotic wealth of our planet but also as a means of inspiring today's conservation efforts. Carol Haggas
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Organisms and Environments (Book 8)
  • Paperback: 270 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; 1 edition (May 8, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520252438
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520252431
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #860,579 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Connie Barlow on February 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover
"Twilight of the Mammoths" is a gem of a book that traces the career work of one of America's most distinguished ecologists: University of Arizona Emeritus, Paul Martin. Martin begins the book with a crash course in Pleistocene ecology: a who's who of magnificent megafauna, from mammoths to mylodon ground sloths - most of whom vanished suddenly some 13,000 years ago ("Near Time," according to Martin). Surely readers will be surprised by how little this awareness has penetrated even the ecologically schooled. Martin aims to correct that oversight, by bringing the dimension of time - near time and "deep time" - into ecology.

Paul Martin is best known for his "Overkill Hypothesis." The great beasts of Ice Age America went extinct, he maintains, not because of climate change but because of us - specifically, the first mammals to arrive on this continent, across the Bering Land Bridge, equipped with weapons that could kill at a distance. This scientific memoir does a splendid job of helping the reader step by step engage with that issue and to acquire a deep sense of the historical twists and turns of its reception. Along the way, we are treated to sensory rich descriptions and storytelling of events and experiences that shaped Martin's outlook. The author is not only a scientist but one of the world's great naturalists - feeling and tasting his way through the landscape. And he is an elegant and sensitive writer:

"It will come as no surprise," Martin writes, "that I define 'the last entire earth' differently than did Thoreau. Prehistorians find that any given land begins to lose its wildness not when the first Europeans arrive, but when the very first humans do. In the Americas true wilderness was more than 10,000 years gone by the time Columbus reached our shores.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Nancy M&M on January 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
As a student of the Quaternary, I was excited about this book from the acknowledged near time expert, Dr. Paul S. Martin. I was not disappointed. Dr. Martin does a great job of building a pyramid of background information so any new student to Ice Age Extinctions will have a firm foundation. He even parenthesizes definitions behind terminology that might be new to the lay reader. For those new to Dr. Martin's angle on Ice Age Extinctions, he attributes all of the near-time megafaunal extinctions to pre-historic hunting. He dismisses climatologists' assertions that changing weather patterns contributed or were solely responsible for the end of so many large terrestrial animals in North America. Following his logic, Dr. Martin proposes a "rewilding" of America with not only wolves and horses, but with similar species of those animals no longer in existence, such as elephants and African antelope. Whether you agree with his assertions, assumptions or conclusions, you will find this book provocative and full of good science.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Smallchief on August 2, 2007
Format: Paperback
This is one of those books that may jolt the conventional wisdom implanted in your brain, especially if you are an environmentalist. First the negative...I thought the first 5 chapters, about one-half, of this book to be a bit boring, telling me more about sloth dung than I really wanted to know. But then the book picked up -- way up -- in interest.

The true "natural" environment of the United States, in Martin's view, existed 13,000 years ago before man got here and that it has been out of balance since. Martin comes down strong on the side that human beings were responsible for the extinction of many large mammals in the Americas about 13,000 years ago and his argument is persuasive. He also makes a strong case that human beings have lived in the Americas for little more than 13,000 years. This is a hot-button issue among archaeologists, but Martin's point is: if the Indians were here more than 13,000 years ago where are the signs of their presence? Not many, if any, have been found in a hundred years of looking.

His most interesting point and new to me was his proposals to re-people (wrong word, maybe "re-animate"?) the New World with representatives of the large mammals that became extinct. For example, why is that our government is trying to kill off the burros and wild horses in national parks? Horses originated in the Americas; they became extinct about 13,000 years ago. Why not allow them to reestablish themselves as a native species?

And then he really gets off on a speculative tangent, "rewilding America." Camels and Llamas lived in the United States until 13,000 thousand years ago; why not reintroduce them as native, wild species. Similarly rhinocerous, elephant, lion, tiger and other mammal species.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By treetopdewdrop on February 18, 2009
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed the content of Twilight of Mammoths as a lay person interested in the topic. However I would have wished he better addressed how humans could have been so thorough in their killing, extinguishing species from the most distant jungles in Central America. Even with advanced technology, this endevour would be most challenging today. How could humans find and kill American lions, but not the bovids? The author talks at length of problems with the overchill theory (climate change) - at the expense of other theories like overill (disease). His writing style is less inspired but in all, a good read, at least for me - a non-expert.
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