Europe: A Natural History by Tim Flannery [8/10]

After years of sterling service as climate change activist and media personality, Tim Flannery has returned to his beloved field of paleontology (he’s also described as a mammologist) with “Europe: A Natural History.” Displaying a natural storyteller’s suppleness and daring, he relates the hundred-million-year tale of Europe’s physical form and fauna and flora, the land formed out of clashing continents, the animals and plants arriving from Africa, Asia, and North America. His narrative strokes are broad indeed – 100 million years down to 34, then down to 2.6 million years, then the stretch down to 38,000 years, and the human eras since. Yet the level of detail deftly summarized, often leavened by quirky discoveries that obviously pique his interest, is stunningly informative. Using a narrative lens of entertaining biopics of key fossil scientists, often odd indeed, brings a human dimension to the story. Historical spans greater than decades leave me befuddled, so much of the detail of species long gone didn’t lodge in my head, but Flannery’s writing chops carried me through. I was fascinated to be brought up to date on the evolutionary emergence of human beings: “The Europeans themselves are hybrids, created about 38,000 years ago when dark-skinned humans from Africa began interbreeding with pale-skinned, blue-eyed Neanderthals.” The book concludes with modern topics such as the re-wilding of Europe’s hinterlands, deliberate or not. “Europe” is a tour de force of synthesis, imagination, and exposition.

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