Most astounding, as Dunn draws on several fascinating case studies to demonstrate, is that organisms, in evolving to leverage conditions and resources in these manufactured settings, sometimes change so much that new species emerge ... In mapping guidelines for human responsiveness to crisis, Dunn is well aware that one principle is inescapable: anthropocentrism. But like so much else, perhaps that built-in bias of ours is adaptable. Close study of how animals are living with climate change reveals that humans are at the center of more things than we realize—shaping the lives of many more species than those we love or regard as familiar. Yet the quest to understand the remarkably varied array of pressures and possibilities involved in that dynamic should help keep hubris in check. Though we are a species long wedded to assertions of control over nature, these books make glaringly clear that we are not in command of what we have set in motion. The biodiversity and versatility on display in the animal kingdom of which we are part have lots to teach us. To remain at home in the world, we too will need to change.
Dunn sketches an arresting vision of this relentless natural world — a world that is in equal measures creative, unguided and extravagant ... Along this unsettling journey into the future, the mood is leavened here and there by oddities, which Dunn dusts off like the docent of a strange natural history museum ... The impression all this arcana leaves with the reader is that we live in a much weirder, more disorienting world than we tend to appreciate ... Dunn’s account leaves an overwhelming impression of fecundity, growth, adaptation. But this isn’t a naïvely rosy vision of the future like some contrarian tracts on the resilience of nature in the Anthropocene. From a human perspective this will be an impoverished world, and many of Dunn’s warnings are concrete and sobering. But readers are left to draw many of the connections for themselves — and as the anecdotes and factoids pile up, they begin to take on a koan-like quality.
Dunn engagingly explains biogeography, inventive intelligence, and speedy evolutionary reaction to changing conditions. Many kinds of creatures are spotlighted in his discussion, including chemical-eating crust microbes, clever crows, and disease-carrying mosquitoes. One of two roads will lead to an increasingly warm and worrisome future. The better path requires conserving or at least mimicking natural ecosystems. The other will inevitably lead to mass extinction.
... stimulating ... Describing the havoc humans are wreaking on the planet is a fertile subject, but this challenging book focuses on what we think we know about nature but don’t ... Dealing reasonably with the circumstances requires knowledge and imagination. The author avoids the usual implausible how-to-fix-it conclusion: worldwide cooperation, self-denial, scientific breakthroughs, unpopular (and therefore unlikely) government actions. Instead, he offers a book that is less doomsday prophecy and more excellent primer on ecology and evolution ... An imaginative, sensible education for those concerned with the fate of the Earth.
... effective ... Dunn’s pessimism is offset by his belief that people can help mitigate the effects of climate change by 'valuing the rest of life' outside humanity, as well as heeding the lessons that other life has to teach. Thoughtful and accessible, this deserves a wide readership.