Cover image for The eternal frontier : an ecological history of North America and its peoples
The eternal frontier : an ecological history of North America and its peoples
Flannery, Tim F. (Tim Fridtjof), 1956-
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Atlantic Monthly Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
404 pages : illustrations (some color), maps ; 24 cm
General Note:
First published by Text Publishing, Melbourne Australia in 2001.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QH102 .F63 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
QH102 .F63 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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In The Eternal Frontier, world-renowned scientist and historian Tim Flannery tells the unforgettable story of the geological and biological evolution of the North American continent, from the time of the asteroid strike that ended the age of dinosaurs 65 million years ago, to the present day. Flannery describes the development of North America's deciduous forests and other flora, and tracks the immigration and emigration of various animals to and from Europe, Asia, and South America, showing how plant and animal species have either adapted or become extinct. The story takes in the massive changes wrought by the ice ages and the coming of the Indians, and continues right up to the present, covering the deforestation of the Northeast, the decimation of the buffalo, and other facets of the enormous impact of frontier settlement and the development of the industrial might of the United States.

Natural history on a monumental scale, The Eternal Frontier contains an enormous wealth of fascinating scientific details, and Flannery's accessible and dynamic writing makes the book a delight to read. This is science writing at its very best -- a riveting page-turner that is simultaneously an accessible and scholarly trove of incredible information that is already being hailed by critics as a classic.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Flannery, director of the South Australian Museum, applies the fluent interdisciplinary approach he used in his ecological history of Australia to the story of North America, a place he finds fascinating for its climatic extremes, rich fossil record, dramatic geologic transformations, and diverse human cultures. He begins with the asteroid that smashed into the Yucatan Peninsula 65 million years ago, then charts the stunned land's gradual recovery, focusing on such indigenous species as the cactus, dog, and horse. He waves his baton and the great Ice Age descends and retreats, and the megafauna--the giant sloth, giant tortoise, and wooly mammoth--appear, followed by human beings. Flannery is of the school that dates human habitation of North America from 13,200 years ago, and he provocatively suggests that these rapacious, two-legged carnivores were directly responsible for the demise of the glorious megafauna. As Flannery makes visible the grand and intricate cycles of evolutionary renaissance and extinction in new and dynamic ways, he foregrounds humankind as the planet's most creative and most destructive species, inducing readers to ask: Our ancestors killed off the mammoth and the buffalo; what havoc will we wreak in the twenty-first century? Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly 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. (May) Forecast: Atlantic Monthly clearly intends to build on the reputation Flannery attained with his previous, highly acclaimed book, Throwim Way Leg and they may have a winner here. The first printing will be 60,000 copies, with a $100,000 promotional budget and a 21-city author tour. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Most natural histories tend to be time- and place-specific, describing, for example, a particular lake, valley, or forest. Flannery is one of the few nature writers able to sustain a big-picture perspective that is both sweeping and substantive. Reminiscent of The Future Eaters (LJ 9/1/95), Flannery's account of his native Australia, this new book explores approximately 65 million years of the ecology of the entire North American continent. Beginning with the asteroid impact presumed to have caused the extinction of dinosaurs, Flannery paints with broad strokes that melt glaciers, raise mountains, cover the land with forests and new species, and, ultimately, create human civilizations unlike any others on Earth. Throughout, he unabashedly celebrates the uniqueness of geographical, geological, climatological, and cultural forces that have shaped this "eternal frontier." The nearest comparison might be with John McPhee's anthology of essays, Annals of the Former World (LJ 5/1/98), but Flannery's book has the virtue of being a continuous narrative, so it reads like an unfolding story. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/01.] Gregg Sapp, Science Lib., SUNY at Albany (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

The most salient zoogeographic events, starting with the changes in North America's biota caused by the Chicxulub impact, are discussed in this popular work. Little attention is paid to the floral history of the continent, except as it is relevant to the fauna. Nearly half of the discussion is centered on the period after ecologically important human contact--the last 13,200 years. The portion covering the 65 million years before human contact contains mention of such a large number of taxa that they are treated merely in passing. This pattern changes with the discussion of the megafaunal extinctions coinciding with the expansion of the Clovis peoples. Digressions away from a strictly chronological sequence also treat a few recent events and other issues in some detail. The history of American expansion is handled from both the perspective of the effect Euro-Americans have had on the continent's environment and, notably, vice versa. Flannery is director of the South Australian Museum and a professor at the University of Adelaide. He has written many popular natural history books, principally about Australasia. Recommended for public libraries. General readers; lower-division undergraduates. J. Cummings Washington State University