Sunday, August 08, 2010

Great book: Nature's Ghosts

Nature's Ghosts
Confronting Extinction from the Age of Jefferson to the Age of Ecology
Mark Barrow
University of Chicago Press, 2009

Early Europeans, like many Native Americans, viewed North America as a place of incredibly diverse and seemingly inexhaustible natural riches. Settlers couldn't believe the abundance of birds and fish and useful furry animals. How that view slowly - very slowly, in fits and starts and with many advances and retreats - changed to a modern view of conservation, losing many key species along with way, is the subject of Barrows' well-written and thorough treatment. I've not come across a book like this, which introduces people both famous and forgotten, organizations that evolved into modern conservation forces, and the contradictions of naturalists who worried about extinction even as they shot and collected every specimen in sight. You know of the work of John James Audubon and Aldo Leopold, but Victor Shelford? John C. Phillips? The American Committee for International Wildlife Protection? I thought I was fairly well read on this topic, but there are surprises on every page, and there are 82 pages of endnotes to reinforce the 360-page main story. This is a landmark work.

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