The book, at first, reminded me of Shaw’s rather mean-spirited review of a budding author’s manuscript, “There’s too much space between the covers.” Reading the book, I found myself skipping words, then sentences till by the end I felt like Spiderman, able to leap over entire chapters in a single bound.
But brickbats apart, I do not mean to say that the actual subject matter of the book i.e. there are flora today with anachronistic traits which seem adapted to now extinct mega-fauna is uninteresting, not in the least. It’s just that you get the feeling that this book is made out of a scientific article that should have remained a scientific article.
The Hypothesis is very intriguing, but once you’ve explained the concept in the first twenty pages or so, what else do you do to fill up the rest of the pages? So we find Ms. Barlow getting interminably repetitive, flogging the same dead horses (no pun intended) every few pages, and providing needless details that are not only not pertinent to the topic but are rather uninteresting at that.
The journalist in Ms. Barlow shines through in her repeated attempts to keep her readers hooked; “X will be further explained in a further chapter”, “Y is further discussed in chapter so-and-so”. It’s like she’s still writing for a newspaper and wants you to continue reading her article from the front page into the jumble of the middle pages.
Midway through the book, I started getting the feeling that Ms. Barlow was truly fascinated by this subject and wanted to present it to everyone in a readable and easily understandable format.
The problems are that
A) There is scant literature evidence or actual research into this hypothesis, and
B) The author is, sadly, not quite up to the task of piquing everyone’s interest.
The handful of examples that she has available are inadequate to fill up almost 250 pages and her attempts to romanticize the topic by repeatedly referring to “Ghosts of extinct Pleistocene mega-fauna” also do not have the required effect.
Still given the author’s passion and the intriguing idea she presented, I still finished the book and did not consider it time wasted.
A most glaring omission, and one that’s been mentioned by a number or readers is the complete absence of even a line drawing of all the Pleistocene mega-fauna that are invoked in every chapter. Where are the Giant Sloths, the Mastodons, and the Gomphotheres? Surely they shouldn’t be as elusive as ghosts in a book that’s dedicated to the partners they’ve left behind? How much could it have cost to get publishing rights to a few pictures?
In the end I would still recommend this book to anyone interested in evolution and its little, fascinating mysteries. The only advice I would give the author would be to pare the book down to almost half and add a few illustrations of mega-fauna
Not a must-read, but definitely not unreadable either.
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