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Once & Future Giants: What Ice Age Extinctions Tell Us about the Fate of Earth's Largest Animals

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  124 Ratings  ·  24 Reviews
Until about 13,000 years ago, North America was home to a menagerie of massive mammals. Mammoths, camels, and lions walked the ground that has become Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles and foraged on the marsh land now buried beneath Chicago's streets. Then, just as the first humans reached the Americas, these Ice Age giants vanished forever. In Once and Future Giants, scie ...more
Hardcover, 255 pages
Published March 22nd 2011 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published February 17th 2011)
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Dec 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
Once and Future Giants, a fascinating read by Sharon Levy, deals with the extinct megafauna from the Pleistocene Ice Age. The first portion of the book deals with the Clovis people, and is by far the roughest portion of the book stylistically. While it holds a great deal of content, it is almost too much and jumps around sporadically. With a bit of editing, this part would have been as good as the rest of the book. The real gems lie in back with the examples of Pleistocene rewilding, the idea of ...more
Gary Schroeder
May 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Levy uses our fascination with giant beasts from a long gone epoch to introduce the reader to the very real and pressing concerns of today’s imperiled ecosystem. The disappearance of creatures like the mammoth and the giant ground sloth hold important lessons about the role of megafauna and top predators. (And just so you aren’t too fooled by the book’s title, there’s really little chance that extinct creatures can ever be brought back to life and Levy explains that it would probably be a horrib ...more
May 15, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great review of contemporary thinking about the global pleistocene extinctions of megafauna. Levy does a good job of covering all sides of the issue, giving a good degree of attention to both the climate-driven and human-driven camps. As a partisan of the human-driven theory or body of ideas myself, it was pleasing to read her unabashed endorsement of that position as the one that seemed to make the most sense. There's a lot of interesting facts and tidbits here, as well as well-explained versio ...more
Mar 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Claudia by:
Began reading "Once and Future Giants" by Sharon Levy. In 255 pages it shed light on where we came from and the animals that have trod alongside man across the face of the globe.

It told the story of where we and our animals companions came from and the fate that accompanies imbalance in ecosystems. From the break up of Gondwanaland 45 million years ago to the end of the Pleistocene (and the dawn of man in the Halocene), this book is gives you an understanding of what has been my personal philos
Sep 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is by far the best book I’ve found on woolly mammoths – what they looked like, what they ate, how they behaved, and so. For as much as they appear in pop culture, for as much as other books reference them, there is a surprising dearth of books just about them.

But Once & Future Giants isn’t limited to woolly mammoths. It covers multiple types of Pleistocene megafauna (the technical term for all those big species that went extinct at the end of the Ice Age – saber toothed tigers, dire wol
Sue Bowling
Nov 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Review from my blog,
I bought Once and Future Giants by Sharon Levy after seeing a review on a science blog. It is indeed an excellent book, though at times it seems that it covers almost too many topics. All, however, have one thread in common: our present ecosystems were to some extent broken by the extinction of large mammals, which can have a profound impact on their environments. Who expected, for instance, that the re-introduction of wolves to Yellow
Lauren Schiltz
Nov 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
In her nonfiction book, Once and Future Giants: What Ice Age Extinctions Tell Us About the Fate of Earth’s Largest Animals, Sharon Levy discusses the extinction events of the Pleistocene megafauna and how that affects today’s large mammals, such as elephants and polar bears. These large mammals are relatives of the Pleistocene giants and are at a similar risk due to climate change, global warming, habitat destruction, and overhunting. According to Levy, these are possible causes for the extincti ...more
Jun 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, non-fiction
As far as I'm concerned, this is the definitive layman's book to date about megafauna.

I was just a little girl when I saw my first Pleistocene megafauna skeleton in a natural history museum. I had gone past it numerous times in the past offhandedly labeling it dinosaur, but one day stopped to actually read the plaquard: Giant Sloth. And my love of megafauna was born. It is true these beasts are awesome in a poetic, romantic sense, and stir the imagination just as deeply as dinosaurs. Our specie
Kristi Thielen
Mar 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Extremely engaging work about the big animals of prehistoric times (the mastodon, the short-faced bear, American lions) and how their demise might teach us lessons about the fate and preservation of today's big animals (African elephants and polar bears).

Levy queries scientists for their take on what brought these ancient animals to extinction; most feel climate change played a role but that human hunting was the larger culprit.

She also explores how efforts to conserve large keystone species -
May 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Less than 15,000 years ago in an era that scientists refer to as “near time”, humans roamed the earth with megafauna like woolly mammoths, 8 foot long beavers and enormous saber tooth cats. These were creatures our ancestors knew intimately, and in Europe and Asia they made vivid cave paintings of the giant beasts. Then, seemingly all at once, most of the animals disappeared. The ones that survived shrank. Was it climate change? Human hunting? In this awe inspiring book Author Sharon Levy does a ...more
Apr 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, science
Since my main reason for reading this was my obsession with North American megafauna, I loved the first half of this book. The author did a nice job presenting extinction theories, and while I might have liked to read more about animals other than mammoths, I learned a lot. I didn't know much about prehistoric Australian mammals, so I found that section fascinating as well.

The rest of the book was well written, but the more recent ecological issues it covers aren't as much of an interest for me.
Sarah Gustafson
Oct 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
Like many Goodreaders, I indulge in two books at once, just as you might enjoy two dishes as part of the same meal. So if you want some poetry to read alongside Levy's Once and Future Giants, I recommend Mary Oliver’s American Primitive.

We have two takes on the primitive here - Levy argues that bringing back the primitive (i.e. big non-human carnivores) can restore balance to our prairies. She gently mocks those who would nurture wild horses but not their predators. -- "The threat of a hungry ca
Ginny Dodge
Jun 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
I was very excited to read this book. I love looking into the past for answers to today's questions. If there is a definitive book to capture why megafauna have disappeared, this is it. I learned so much about extinct North American and Australian giants. It was wonderful to learn about the giant land sloth, North American lion, dire wolf and more. The chapter surrounding Yellowstone was incredible. Learning how giant predators help regulate the ecosystem makes me wonder what type of future we a ...more
Dec 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Beginning with the stately mastodon of North America, in chapters that move from continent to continent Sharon Levy documents what we know about prehistoric and ancient megafauna: how they lived, how they influenced their environments with respect to other fauna and flora, and ultimately how they died. She describes the ways in which the loss of top predators in many biomes today is having an enormous and unanticipated tumble-down effect, resulting in devastating losses of biodiversity. She also ...more
Jan 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
"Both our dreams and our fates remain tied to the giants around us--the humble and domesticated along with the fierce and the wild."

I hugely enjoyed Levy's writings on megafauna (large animals) both modern and ancient. My favorite parts were any parts having to do with Pleistocene creatures. I especially loved her writings on the Australian Pleistocene megafauna as I was unfamiliar with them until now.

She ties in these ancient creatures with the fate of modern animals (elephants, deer, tigers,
Brian Bigelow
Jan 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: environment
"The only constant is change" ~ Diogenes Laertius

This book is an exploration of extinction events and change. There are lessons to be learned from Pleistocene events that correlate to todays large animals. Conversely, we can learn about Pleistocene events from todays ecological changes.

Numerous things came together to cause Pleistocene megafauna extinction events of which the introduction of humans was probably the final straw. Hunting, fires, decrease of available habitat and environmental ch
Dec 05, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: nature
An up to date coverage of theories relating to Pleistocene extinction of megafauna, but predominantly favoring the Overkill hypothesis. The book also tries to tie this in with implications for the conservation of today's large mammals, arguing their vital importance in maintaining wild and productive landscapes. The benefits to fighting global warming through such conservation are interesting and new topics, definitely needing more research. Sadly the practical impossibility of reintroducing lar ...more
Rachel (Sfogs)
Nov 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, library
This book is very interesting.
Inside you will find Mastodon, Mammoth, Woolly Rhino, Giant Kangaroos, Marsupial Lions and many more. How human predation tipped the balance for their extinction, after they survived many ice ages and global warmings.
And how the loss of the mega-fauna has had huge ecological impacts, and how what we see as 'natural wild landscape' is usually not the case.
How taking out large herbivores, and ESPECIALLY large carnivores really stuffs things up. Humans love to vilify
Richard Good
Nov 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I became aware of this book only because I know the author personally, but I was genuinely surprised by the enjoyment I found in reading about a subject I wasn't even aware existed. While the text covers some fairly technical material, Sharon Levy lays it out in a manner that actually makes the information fun to learn. Although we may feel that some of the subject is theoretical, the concept is still very intriguing and, at times, captivating. I thoroughly enjoyed learning new and interesting t ...more
Mar 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
The main message I got out of this book is just how complex trying to restore working ecosystems to the modern world will be. There are so many possible interactions between humans, megafauna, plants, and climate that might occur. The most important thing is to keep researching how successful ecosystems work and how humans can be integrated into them without damaging them.
Aug 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Oct 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned-read
A fascinating read.
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Thomas Mailund
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Dec 15, 2014
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