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The Eternal Frontier: an Ecological History of North America and Its People

4.05  ·  Rating Details  ·  457 Ratings  ·  67 Reviews
Award-winning author Tim Flannery begins his epic history of our continent with an asteroid explosion 65 million years ago and ends it with sensible prognostications about North America 1,000 years hence. Between those points, his 368-page narrative unfolds with the jaunty ease of a Charles Kuralt Sunday morning chat. Flannery, who is a museum director, knows how to spice ...more
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published January 1st 2001 by Penguin Books Australia Ltd.
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Mar 29, 2008 Hundeschlitten rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am conflicted about this book: the first 2/3, when Flannery discusses the ecological history of North America up until 1492, gets 5 stars in my book, while all the politically charged clap-trap in the final third would get 2 stars (and even there I am probably being generous).

Flannery introduced a couple of interesting notions that I'd never really thought about:North America's inverted wedge exaggerates global temperature shifts, impacting the ecological history of this otherwise fertile cont
Nov 19, 2008 Tom rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Tom by: it was in the recommended reading section of a book that Lifetr
It was tough reading the first half of the book, which was primarily a treatise on the various dinosaurs and megafauna that roamed over the N.A. land way back in time. The the humans show up, about 14,000 years ago. I really enjoyed reading about the ice age and imagined what it must have been like to have to deal with mastadons and mammoths, and gigantic lions. Things sort of deteriorate, as the Northeast is deforested, and then our forefathers turned to decimating the buffalo and the passenger ...more
Dan Allosso
Although I liked the entire book quite a bit, I think the title is a bit misleading. Flannery’s story of pre-human America, brilliantly described in the first half of the book, is much more comprehensive than his story of humans in the Americas.

Most of the reading I’ve done about prehistory, recently, has focused on the rise of humans. Flannery offers a detailed view of the story leading up to humans. Beginning with the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, Flannery
David Kessler
Apr 15, 2012 David Kessler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyed the book very much. The ecology of N. America after the asteroid struck it 65 million yrs ago. What animals survived the blast and which animals emigrated on land bridges? The story of what plants and animals have and had lived in North America over this long expanse of time is based upon solid science: recent geology and 80 yrs of paeleantologists digging and digging in North America.
Jun 15, 2015 Tim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A high level overview of the ecological history of North America beginning 65 million years ago. It is technical - it would be improved with a glossary, many more illustrations, some tables, and more maps. I found his conjectures about the origins and movements of plants and animal fascinating. When he finally gets around to human history, Flannery's opinions are direct (like human hunting, not environmental changes eliminated North American megafauna), but the coverage is too spare and quick, b ...more
Interesting book it many ways, but it's definitely a history of the area that will be called the United States, not a history of North America--although it starts out as the latter and gives an impressively interesting account of the geological and biological origins of North America as a whole, the focus narrows to the continental US and stays there. There are also areas where the author is clearly out of his comfort zone: more details on Native American history would have been but appropriate ...more
May 18, 2008 Tina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nature-writing
I found this book fascinating. It was easy to read and filled with information about how the flora and fauna and landscape of North America evolved. I never knew there used to be tigers in America until I read this book!
Adam Cherson
Dec 31, 2013 Adam Cherson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I rate this book a 4.12 on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being best. Another exceptional environmental history from Flannery. A staggering tale of evolution, migration, invasion, and hybridization of life. The scope of this narrative is mind boggling as it tells the story of the evolution of life in the North America from the dawn of time until the present. A must read for naturalists.

There is no more splendid example of North America’s capacity to act as a great amplifier than this: the Earth cools
Mar 07, 2016 Pamela rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, non-fiction
This is an incredibly intense book that looks at the ecology of North America since the meteor strike that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago to the present.

Pluses - This book will make you think a different way about the past of the North American continent and its relationship to the rest of the world. Flannery presents a huge amount of information and manages to keep the text from bogging down. In some of the more controversial instances he does mention other ideas and states his opin
Jun 11, 2013 Adam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Adam by: Edmund Russell
I'd read fragments of North America's story elsewhere and become intrigued. I knew, for instance, that bison were not "from" here in deep time, but horses were, and now the situation had ironically been restored (kind of) to its original state. I knew there used to be a rich mammalian fauna that was killed off and largely replaced by Eurasian species at the end of the Pleistocene. But these were just hints of a much larger story, and I wanted to go deeper and see the complete picture.

The Eternal
Flannery tackles a lot here -- the flora, the fauna, the geology, the peoples -- and covers a necessarily vast span of time. Hard to believe the same relatively short book could contain dinosaurs and Henry Ford in a linear telling. The first 200 pages bore a number of authorial interjections that made it clear this was to be no objective survey of the natural history, but more of a compilation of the available research (as of 2001) told from an opinionated, concerned, personal perspective. It is ...more
I've been trying to write this review for a month now, and things keep going wrong. Hopefully third time's the charm. This is quite the book. He really does cover the history of the entire North American continent, from the moment it starts to exist up to just a little into the future. There are some points where it just became overwhelmingly technical. Flannery makes long lists of all the historical species that existed in North America (and often on other continents for comparison's sake). Whe ...more
Jun 01, 2010 Guy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, ecology
Not as good as his brilliant "The Future Eaters" about Australia, but still very good. Flannery's basic thesis is that North America has been "the frontier" for one species after another ever since that "Most unfortunate day for North America 65 million years ago" when a massive meteorite struck in the Gulf of Mexico and wiped out almost all life in North America south of the Arctic Circle.

For millions of years thereafter, as one land bridge after another opened and closed, new species arrived
This is a great overview of North American ecology, especially because it is presented through a geologic time frame (and I think it's important from time to time for anyone to think of species extinction and natural resource management using a much longer time frame). Some of the details (i.e., the names of the various extinct species) get to be a little much, but overall I think it's worth the time if you are interested in how North American species evolved, the characteristics (geologic, clim ...more
Mary Cronk
Sep 20, 2008 Mary Cronk rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is informative about the formation and history of the ecology of North America. It is also very sad when you realize how many times the continent and its inhabitants have been impacted by humans. And we still don't get it. We still keep destroying our own habitat. Reading this intelligent book will convince you that we need to respect the history of the continent and plan for generations after us. We have such short memories, and this book reminds us how important it is to recognize th ...more
Jul 28, 2008 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like Time Flannery’s point of view. The book puts our present society in context of ecological forces that have played out on the continent for millenia. He covers a lot – changing climate and continental arrangement, species distribution and evolution – and makes sense of the patterns. He talks about how the values of the U.S. are founded on a frontier mentality, and how North America represented a frontier not only for Europeans but also for previous immigrations of humans and other species. ...more
May 26, 2010 Bruce rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Most of the book is a solid but dry description of the floral/faunal history of N. America from about 65 mill. yrs. ago to the present. There is a lot of interesting information but the narration is poor; too much of this material reads something like "animal X migrated over pathway y to get to N. America z million years ago." The final 50 pages or so is a typical misplaced screed against the standard foe (hint: males of European ancestry) who have destroyed every aspect of N. America's ecology ...more
Jun 01, 2015 Ken rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Covers how North American developed geologically and how life moved into it over time. Bill Bryson referenced this author a great deal in "A Short History of Nearly Everything", which is why I picked it up. Flannery is from Australia and wrote a really good book on kangaroos, too.
Mar 27, 2014 Anosh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book taught me a lot about evolution of life in North America over the last 65 million years. It has a lot of cool things like dogs, camels and horses originated in North America and the effects of the ice ages on flora and fauna. I feel smarter already.
Rick Lamplugh
The Eternal Frontier, published in 2001, recounts the extraordinary ecological history of North America. Tim Flannery begins his story sixty-five million years ago when a six-mile-wide meteor crashed into the Gulf of Mexico, ending the age of dinosaurs. He proceeds to show how the continent eventually transformed into the landscape we know today. Flannery is a world-renowned paleontologist—and a good writer. He manages to make minute detail and big ideas interesting and understandable with good ...more
Jun 25, 2010 Stig rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Exciting account of the ecological development of North America after the asteroid impact 65 mio. years ago. I found the second half of the book which describes the situation after the arrival of humans some 13,000 years ago the most interesting, but there is a lot of good stuff here. Learned some fascinating things, too - for example, there were lions in an ice-free area in Alaska during the ice age, and today's American bison seems to have evolved quite rapidly and considerably to adapt to the ...more
Nov 04, 2015 Hank rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, nature
I read this book several years ago. I remember being enthralled by Flannery's discussion of the prehistoric fauna of North America.
Jan 28, 2010 Bryan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
awesome book. absolutely fascinating read the whole way through. what i liked the most was learning about the megafauna that were wiped out around the time that the Clovis peoples showed up (he argues in favor of the idea that they wiped them out, stating that the majority viewpoint is that it was climate-induced). he builds a compelling argument that the clovis were responsible for their extinction, but of course it's his book, so who knows what the other side would say in response, i haven't d ...more
Jimmy Videle
Jun 02, 2013 Jimmy Videle rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The fossil record of our history in North America is so limited that it would be hard to draw conclusions on our mammalian past. But a prevailing view of Tim Flannery's work is that instead of species evolving in North America some came over from Beringia or the Bering Strait over 10,000,000 years ago, supposedly like people did about 15,000 years ago. My question would be Why would that be?, or better would be that We are writing fiction for science to try and create a history based on in some ...more
Mike Prochot
Outstanding account of the natural history of North America. Flannery brings together the known facts of climate, flora and fauna of our continent in a way for us all to understand.

The explanation of the end of the dinosaurs left me wondering why there are those who still consider it to be a mystery.

Thought provoking and well written. It should be on the reading list of all who feel that "climate change" is something we have just discovered and that we can somehow control the natural evolution
Mar 12, 2011 Mobill76 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was awesome. One of the best natural history books ever. It's an amazing blend of geological, biological, and social history. It's concise and well-paced. It is an absolutely gripping story as Flannery relates the rise and fall of species and climates with such epic sweep that you feel like God watching it happen. Just great. Nothing like it. Stephen Gould would've been proud. I gave this to my wife to read. If you only read one natural history book in your lifetime - this is the best summa ...more
Yehua Yang
I actually quite enjoyed the book. The reason it does not have a higher rating is because of the length and the breadth of topic covered. Although I found everything very interesting, and a lot of information was presented in a way that was easily digestible for the lay-person, the range of topic covered was a kind of disparate. Topics covered, which ranged from descriptions of Eocene flora and fauna to post-Columbian European expansion, just doesn't quite belong in the same book for me...
Bill Braine
I've been "currently reading" this book for about nine months, a couple of pages a about eternal. It might be written for a more serious student of paleontology, or it may be that I don't have a deep enough calendar and map and thus lose track of which migration is happening when, but I'm not sure I'm going to walk away from this one with an internalized knowledge of North American pre-history. That will be a deficit.

UPDATE: May 2008 -- I still haven't given up on this.
Caroline Heins
Mar 20, 2008 Caroline Heins rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: archaeology and history buffs
Maybe this book is a bit dry but it is a great read and it really had my mind churning with ideas while I read it. Some of the ideas presented in the book were (and still are) quite new to me. What particularily caught my attention is the concept of mass extinctions and the possibility that we are currently witnessing a massive change in the earths flora and fauna on an archaeological scale. I still pull knowledge gleaned from this book out in discussions with my friends.
An australian scientist, Tim Flannery looks at about 65 million years of plant and animal migration and evolution in North America. The author also discusses the impact that hunter-gatherers, farmers, human cultures and civilizations had on the land's animals and plants plus the impact that they had on humans. You can read a review from Booklist at (lj)
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Tim Flannery is one of Australia's leading thinkers and writers.

An internationally acclaimed scientist, explorer and conservationist, he has published more than 130 peer-reviewed scientific papers and many books. His books include the landmark works The Future Eaters and The Weather Makers, which has been translated into more than 20 languages and in 2006 won the NSW Premiers Literary Prizes for B
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