Originally published December 9th, 2012
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). When these are commonly known animals (mammoth, bison, panther, camel, horse) he’ll use the Latin name once for specificity and then use its common name. But ones that aren’t well known don’t have common names, and seeing list after list of Latin names made my eyes glaze over. Once the history got into more recent eras that problem faded away. Flannery also does well distinguishing between what is fairly accepted in the paleontological community and what is debated theory or his own hypothesis, which I appreciated since I don’t have enough of a knowledge base to tell for myself. Flannery delves a little into the future of the frontier; what will happen to North America and the attitude of the frontier (conspicuous consumption) as people realize that no resource is inexhaustible, and that the frontier attitude has to end because eventually something will run out. My favourite part is an extended quote by Keynes:
“What will you do,” he asked, ‘when you have built all the houses and roads and town halls and electric grids and water supplies and so forth which the stationary population of the future require?” p352-353
If we don’t keep consuming, capital can’t keep increasing in value. And if capital doesn’t keep increasing in value, it will lose its value. And if it loses its value, what will we do?
What, indeed, will we do.