cover image Paradise Found: Nature in America at the Time of Discovery

Paradise Found: Nature in America at the Time of Discovery

Steve Nicholls. University of Chicago Press, $30 (524pp) ISBN 978-0-226-58340-2

Entomologist, writer and documentary filmmaker Nicholls combines natural history, American history, and ecology into a fascinating study of American wildlife and its fate. Nicholls uses documents left behind by Scandinavian and European explorers to reveal the stunning natural riches that met them-""rivers and lakes down the east coast were choked with so many fish that it left those early explorers lost for words""-and the distance we've come since then. Largely thanks to an us-or-them mentality (""we preserve and isolate sections of nature, in national parks or wilderness areas, separate from the human world""), many U.S. species have been lost or nearly lost, including cod populations (from an estimated 4 million tons in 1492) and carrier pigeons (the last of which died in a zoo). Nicholls highlights the ironic situation of early settlers, who faced starvation despite this incredible abundance, and ecology-shaping practices of Native Americans that ""we are only just beginning to realize."" . In an engaging prose style peppered with humor, Nicholls takes readers from Atlantic to Pacific, studying local ecology from historical and personal perspectives, hammering home the warning that, despite appearances, ""Planet Earth is finite.""