Sunday, November 27, 2016

Last of the Giants (Jeff Campbell)

Last of the Giants: The Rise and Fall of Earth's Most Dominant Species
Jeff Campbell
Zest Books
Nonfiction, YA? Animals
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: When people think of megafauna, they usually think of such lost behemoths as woolly mammoths - creatures long gone before the rise of recorded history, save a few enigmatic images left by our earliest ancestors on cave walls. Surely, driving animals to oblivion was something only our short-sighted cave-dwelling ancestors would do. But some have vanished in more recent centuries; the baiji, a river dolphin in China, was just declared extinct in 2011. As we stand on the brink of the "Sixth Extinction", even more species are poised on the edge. The author describes thirteen species - most lost to us, a few barely clinging to survival - and what humans have done to both destroy and save them.

REVIEW: By its very nature, this is a depressing book on many levels. For all the compassion we preach (if so rarely practice) in our religions and philosophies, for all the reverence we bestow upon animals, even for all the scientific progress we've made, we just can't seem to grasp how to live without destroying most every species and ecosystem we encounter - or how such destruction ultimately lessens our own chances of long-term survival. Campbell covers a wide range of animals, from the giant moa of New Zealand to the Steller's sea cow of the Arctic, the aurochs of primeval Europe to the passenger pigeon of the Americas. (Why include a relatively small bird? They existed in such massive numbers - over a million to a flock - and had such a large impact on the environment that Campbell fully justifies their inclusion with other earth-shaping megafauna like rhinos and giant tortoises.) This book is geared for the casual reader, suitable for older school-age children, so the articles aren't necessarily deep, but they are reasonably thorough, and an extensive bibliography offers further reading for those interested. For all the doom and gloom, some glimmers of potential hope remain; not all species in this book are gone, and one can only hope that humanity eventually matures enough, morally and scientifically, to take better care of our world and ourselves.
While the book itself was reasonably interesting, what cost it a solid star in the ratings was the terrible formatting of the eBook copy. In order to preserve the printed book's appearance, with several insets and asides, the text was rendered so small I could barely read it on my Kindle eReader; normally, enlarging the font size helps, but here I had to manually scroll around the page in order to read, which was highly inconvenient. Trying it on the Kindle app of my Nook (with its larger screen) was only marginally better; the book's font was eye-straining to read and couldn't be changed. The insets often broke between pages, and I couldn't just glance ahead to finish like in a printed book. An eBook just plain isn't going to look the same as the print version, and this forced attempt to make them identical hurt my reading experience. Otherwise, this is a good introduction to and exploration of (relatively) recent extinctions and the concept of the Anthropocene age. Just do yourself a favor and get the paperback.

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The Ghosts of Evolution (Connie Barlow) - My Review
Never Cry Wolf (Farley Mowat) - My Review
Let Them Eat Shrimp (Kennedy Warne) - My Review

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