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Once and Future Giants: What Ice Age Extinctions Tell Us About the Fate of Earth's Largest Animals 1st Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195370126
ISBN-10: 0195370120
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Editorial Reviews

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"Sharon Levy does a marvellous job of explaining the complex and competing theories behind these mass Pleistocene extinctions, while capturing the fervour and enthusiasm of the scientists who dedicate their lives to solving the mystery." --Kat Austen, New Scientist


"Beautifully connects the world as we know it to one that, on a geological scale, disappeared only yesterday.... 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


"The book tackles the often conflicting theories and research in such a way that lay readers can understand what scientists think happened in the past and what they see happening now. But the big question is whether we can reverse these trends. Levy outlines possible methods to save some of the living megafauna and rebalance ecosystems.... Highly recommended for all interested readers." --Library Journal


"In a series of fascinating discussions Levy breathes life into these long-extinct animals, introduces readers to important lessons to be learned from extinction events, and considers proposals for resurrecting Ice Age ecosystems.... This well-written, general interest book on basic ecology will interest anyone concerned about the health of the environment and the importance of conserving dwindling wilderness resources." --Choice


"The book provides, in a more convincing way than I have read anywhere else, an integrated account of the past extinction of megafauna, the impact of these losses on the modern world, and the present status and conservation of large mammals globally." --Adrian Lister, PLoS Biology


"It seems likely that human hunting played some part in many of these extinctions.... Biologist and journalist Sharon Levy lays out the evidence for this theory--and explores what this species drain can teach us now. The patterns and consequences of the Pleistocene die-offs can help us to predict how landscapes will change if we lose big mammals, and help us to spot warning signs of impending extinctions." --Emma Marris, Nature


"I found this educational and extremely interesting. Levy paints a picture of the Pleistocene that easily draws the reader into the prehistoric world of the megafauna." -- Biological Conservation


From the Author

When I was a kid growing up in Chicago, I used to fantasize that the mastodons whose bones lay deep under the pavement would rise out of the earth and rampage down Lake Shore Drive.  Decades later, I began reporting on a group of quirky scientists who were reconstructing the lost world of the mastodon in remarkable detail-using everything from prehistoric poop to the DNA preserved in ancient fur.  Most of them shared my dreams of snuffling, roaring Ice Age giants, and a few believed they could really bring that world back to life.  I had to write about this.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (March 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195370120
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195370126
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 1.1 x 6.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,316,858 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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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