Dan Flores’ beautifully written deep-dive into the conjoined histories of wildlife and humans in North America is fascinating, heartbreaking, and ultimately inspiring. “Wild New World” is easily my favorite book of 2022.
Here is a wildlife story for the ages, an epic account of the interaction between animals and humans reaching back 30,000 years to a time when this primeval continent teemed with an extraordinary variety of jaw-dropping Ice Age beasts: legendary creatures such as woolly mammoths, sabertooth tigers, giant ground sloths, and beavers the size of Volkswagen bugs.
In much the same way that writers like Hampton Sides redefined history books as compelling narratives, Dan Flores presents his sweeping account of evolution and anthropology as a captivating read that’s hard to put down.
An engaging and passionate writer, at one point Flores jogs down the steepening path of a Clovis-era buffalo jump, gaining speed and adrenaline as he imagines the experience of giant bison hurtling toward their doom.
Revelations and fascinating theories occur on every page, such as the proposition that indigenous coexistence attitudes toward wildlife may have formed out of ancestral trauma of people who watched the disappearance of so many Ice Age beasts.
Contrast that with the attitudes of European colonists, whose astonishment at the abundance of American wildlife leads to 300 years of thoughtless slaughter.
Here, readers must steel themselves as passenger pigeons are erased from the sky in a gluttony of gunfire, and the relentless poisoning of wolves takes out a host of other creatures as well. Such tragedies, however, give rise to visionaries like Audubon, Burroughs, and Grinnell, who helped shift American perspectives and give birth to the bold concept of wildlife conservation.
I would suggest that the ultimate value of this exceptional book lies there, not just in the thrilling ecological history of North America’s original animal kingdom, but in its powerful motivation to appreciate and preserve what remains of that Wild New World.