End of the Megafauna

The Fate of the World's Hugest, Fiercest, and Strangest Animals

Ross D E MacPhee (Author), Peter Schouten (Illustrated by)


The fascinating lives and puzzling demise of some of the largest animals on earth.

Until a few thousand years ago, creatures that could have been from a sci-fi thriller—including gorilla-sized lemurs, 500-pound birds, and crocodiles that weighed a ton or more—roamed the earth. These great beasts, or “megafauna,” lived on every habitable continent and on many islands. With a handful of exceptions, all are now gone.

What caused the disappearance of these prehistoric behemoths? No one event can be pinpointed as a specific cause, but several factors may have played a role. Paleomammalogist Ross D. E. MacPhee explores them all, examining the leading extinction theories, weighing the evidence, and presenting his own conclusions. He shows how theories of human overhunting and catastrophic climate change fail to account for critical features of these extinctions, and how new thinking is needed to elucidate these mysterious losses.

Along the way, we learn how time is determined in earth history; how DNA is used to explain the genomics and phylogenetic history of megafauna—and how synthetic biology and genetic engineering may be able to reintroduce these giants of the past. Until then, gorgeous four-color illustrations by Peter Schouten re-create these megabeasts here in vivid detail.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • November 2018
  • ISBN 978-0-393-24929-3
  • 8.3 × 10.3 in / 256 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Endorsements & Reviews

“A first-class example of a fantastic popular science book. The combination of a logical structure, accessible writing, shrewd observations, and beautiful illustrations make it a pleasure to read and impossible to put down.” — Leon Vlieger, National History Book Service

“An informative, up-to-date overview of a fascinating period in Earth's history.” — Science News

“Marvellous...brilliantly served by the superb illustrations of Australian artist Peter Schouten....A compelling, sometimes demanding and scientifically rigorous detective story.” — Christopher Hart, Sunday Times (UK)

“I've always wanted to meet a glyptodon, or maybe a toxodon, or even a Giant Irish Deer. Why settle for fauna when you can have megafauna made easy? Ross D. E. MacPhee is a fabulous writer. His End of the Megafauna is a spectacularly illustrated and captivating whodunit exploring the greatest of extinction mysteries. A mixture of oddball observations, anecdotes, and true science, with all of those questions you've always wanted to ask an expert—'Why do species decline?' 'Why do extinctions occur?' 'Is it all our fault?' 'Can we expect no better for ourselves?' Why risk time travel to the Pleistocene when you can read this book? I highly recommend it.” — Errol Morris, author of The Ashtray

“A lively and smart tour of the various theories of why so many large-bodied animals disappeared around 11,700 years ago. Drawing from his decades of personal involvement in the debate, Ross D. E. MacPhee explores the assumptions, arguments, and misconceptions about the roles of humans, a changing climate, and other possible causes for the disappearance of the megafauna. With vivid prose matched by Peter Schouten’s equally vivid illustrations, the reader is transported back in time to a world that is both foreign and familiar, and emerges with a better understanding of how our actions as humans impact the world around us.” — Beth Shapiro, author of How to Clone a Mammoth

“Adds thoughtful fuel to a scholarly debate that shows no signs of ending.” — Kirkus

“This is a must-read for anyone interested in the subject of animal extinctions, in the present or the past.” — Publishers Weekly

“MacPhee’s research, combined with award-winning artist Schouten’s illustrations, makes for a book that will fascinate and draw attention to the loss of these interesting and unusual species.” — Booklist

“With flashes of dry humor, paleomammalogist MacPhee....offers an accessible overview of evidence supporting and contradicting popular scientific theories, and Schouten’s...detailed color illustrations of an earlier world will captivate readers.” — Library Journal

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