Europe: A Natural History
Text Publishing, $34.99 pb, 357 pp, 9781925603941
If the past is a foreign country, the distant past is a very foreign one indeed. Tim Flannery’s new book takes us deep into the prehistory of Europe. Climbing aboard the time machine that he repeatedly invites us to use, we glimpse pygmy dinosaurs and terrifying terminator pigs the size of cows. We meet, on the island of Gargano in what is now southern Italy, a giant carnivorous hedgehog. Later, we learn of hippos in the Thames and woolly rhinos in Scotland, encounter a cobra in ancient Hungary and a small ape in what is now Tuscany. For much of the past hundred million years, the climate of the zone we call Europe was tropical or semi-tropical. Huge straight-tusked elephants wandered the continent, their dwarf descendants (only one metre tall) surviving in Cyprus until about 11,000 years ago. Europe’s natural history turns out to be dramatic, yet on timescales that are hard for most of us to absorb.