Friday, November 16, 2012
This Week at the Library (16 November)
The postman was kind to me this week, delivering a batch of reading I'm very much looking forward to. Some of the books I received include works I’ve been intending to read all year long: Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Space Chronicles and Charles C. Mann’s 1493: Discovering the World Columbus Created. Adding to that is The Humans Who Went Extinct, which I’ve had on my 'book wishlist' since its inception, and the most recent book in the Star Trek Voyager Relaunch, The Eternal Tide. And who is that on the cover?
Janeway's back and you're gonna be in trouble
Hey-la, hey-la, Janeway's back...
Oh, what fun times we’ll have. Also, to go along with The Humans Who Went Extinct, I’m going to be exploring Robert Sawyer’s Neanderthal Parallax series, which establishes an alternate universe where Neanderthals, not Homo sapiens, are supreme on Earth. I have the first book, Hominids, checked out from the library. My reading tends to flow in moods, and right now the prevailing wind is one of natural history.
Speaking of which, I finally finished Twilight of the Mammoths, which I began....months ago. I'd wanted to learn more about the megafauna that dominated the Americas before humans arrived. I'm utterly fascinated by the idea of primitive North America as a land of lions and cheetahs, a wilderness teeming more with large life than even Africa. As it turns out, a primary source for learning about ancient mammalian behaviour is...dung. Dung is mentioned more in Twilight of the Mammoths than it is in Flushed: how the Plumber Saved Civilization. That I mark impressive, but it's versatile stuff, dung. The oh-so-serious dung dissection didn't interact well with my desire to be awed, so my interest trailed off until being reignited by Baxter and Pratchett's The Long Earth, which involves as part of its setting an Earth in which humans never spread to the Americas, and so the native ecology is intact. Twilight exists to argue that human predation ("overkill") was the primary cause of megafauna extinctions in the Americas, as opposed to climate change. In the decades since Martin released this book, I believe overkill has become the standard explanation, but even so this is a worthwhile book for the curious mind. It puts overkill on solid ground for those new to it, provides a catalog of large animals that were driven into extinction, and ends with a smaller argument advocating for the restoration of the prehuman ecology, one using still-living animals to replace the many gaps the spread of human civilization created. He suggests, for example, using camels to counter the spread of mesquite in the southwest.