The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World
by Steve Brusatte
Dinosaurs Rediscovered: The Scientific Revolution in Paleontology
by Michael J. Benton
As I was reading some recent books on dinosaurs, I kept wondering, “What were dinosaurs for?” It’s a ridiculous question, and I wondered why I was wondering it. After all, dinosaurs were “for” exactly what we are “for,” what every organism has been “for” since life began. Every species that has ever lived is a successful experiment in the enterprise of living, and every species is closely kinned at the genetic level with all other species. This is harder to grasp than it seems, partly because the logic of that Satanic preposition—“for”—is so insidious, so woven through the problem of time. Teleology is the moralizing of chronology, and nowadays science tries to keep watch for even the slightest trace of it, any suggestion that evolution has a direction tending to culminate in us or in what we like to call intelligence or in any other presumably desirable end point.
In his first nonfiction book, Of Wolves and Men (1978), Barry Lopez described the appalling American slaughter of wolves—a long and ongoing vendetta driven by economic and political motives and by a quality of hatred that humans usually reserve for one another. “It seems to me,” he says, “that somewhere …
The American Farmer in the Eighteenth Century: A Social and Cultural History
by Richard Lyman Bushman
This Blessed Earth: A Year in the Life of an American Family Farm
by Ted Genoways
Industrial agriculture—shaped by the USDA, by chemical and seed companies, by the vagaries of domestic and export markets—relies on a picture of the family farmer to soften its image. It wants it both ways. It wants to celebrate its technical innovations, like genetically modified crops, computer-driven tractors, and satellite-monitored fields. And yet it also wants to foster our national nostalgia for farming and the men and women who do it. The contradiction is intolerable, especially to farmers.
by Ulrich Raulff, translated from the German by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp
In 1937, a car carrying Rebecca West got stuck in a snowdrift on a Croatian hilltop. “Peasants ran out of a cottage near by,” she wrote, “shouting with laughter because machinery had made a fool of itself, and dug out the automobile with incredible rapidity. They were doubtless anxious to …
Redeployment is a collection of twelve brutally effective first-person stories about the uselessness of stories. They are fictions from the Iraq war, but they draw on many conversations between soldiers and the author, Phil Klay, an ex-marine. Who tells them? Among the narrators are a military chaplain, a soldier in …
The better we understand the earth’s natural systems, the more dynamic they appear to be. (The same could be said of the universe itself.) Two and a half centuries ago earth looked like a planet of remarkable fixity and a short time scale. Since then, of course, the past has …
I can no longer sum up John Ruskin as neatly as I did when I was working at the Morgan Library. I was a young, privateering scholar then, conducting swift, efficient raids on the legacy of one writer after another as the manuscript exhibition came together. Ruskin was a prescient critic of the industrializing world around him and an early witness of climate change, as Tim Barringer notes in Unto This Last: Two Hundred Years of Ruskin, the catalog accompanying the exhibition of the same name currently showing at the Yale Center for British Art. Ruskin’s lectures called “The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century”—delivered in 1884 and based on a lifetime of cloud-watching—portray the “plague-wind” that originated, he believed, in the smokestacks of industrial England. “By the plague-wind every breath of air you draw is polluted, half round the world.”