The Future Eaters: An Ecological History of the Australasian Lands and People

ISBN: 0802139434
ISBN 13: 9780802139436
By: Tim Flannery

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About this book

Humans first settled the islands of Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia, and New Guinea some sixty millennia ago, and as they had elsewhere across the globe, immediately began altering the environment by hunting and trapping animals and gathering fruits and vegetables. In this illustrated iconoclastic ecological history, acclaimed scientist and historian Tim Flannery follows the environment of the islands through the age of dinosaurs to the age of mammals and the arrival of humanity on its shores, to the coming of European colonizers and the advent of the industrial society that would change nature's balance forever. Penetrating, gripping, and provocative, The Future Eaters is a dramatic narrative history that combines natural history, anthropology, and ecology on an epic scale. "Flannery tells his beautiful story in plain language, science-popularizing at its Antipodean best." -- Times Literary Supplement "Like the present-day incarnation of some early-nineteenth-century explorer-scholar, Tim Flannery refuses to be fenced in." -- Time

Reader's Thoughts


Though Flannery's general thesis is pretty apparent by the end of the first chapter, this book is worth reading for its intriguing line of argumentation and the wealth of research that was obviously put into it. At times, it becomes arduous to wade through the volume of information provided, but it is worth the effort. At the end of the day, Tim Flannery has managed to convince me that humanity is generally pretty stupid and Australia is kind of a dump. Now if that isn't insightful, I don't know what is. In closing, read this book. Learn something. People are already starting to call you stupid behind your back.


Typical Flannery. He moves forward with confidence, even when the argument is more fancy than fact.


Phenomenal book. Hands down the best Anthropology book I've ever read. It has opened by understanding much further than before on a wide array of concepts such as: sustainability, evolution, war, famine, species diversity etc.It covers 50,000 years + of evolution; primarily in the south-pacific, but he does go into European evolution and Asian evolution of humans because of their influence on the region.From megafauna to mountain formations, retracting ice ages, case-by-case analysis of patterns of extinction to disruption, the link between poor ecosystems and diversity, how every new 'progress' we exercise is actually reducing future wealth [hence the title:], animal husbandry, humans in temperate vs. tropical areas, completely re-think your ideas about war and what it means, completely re-think your idea about what is right to conserve and what we should eat, completely shatter the ideal of the tribe as being the correct human-group size in all situations, strong reinforcement that environment will forge evolution, multiple human flows and their diverse effects, the tame vs. wild animal, boom-bust cycles that follow clear patterns, the fire-farming method, calculating carrying capacities, how aboriginal people were just as advanced as Europeans, the 12,000 agricultural myth is not true [its more like 50 to 60,000 years old in the pacific:], understanding 100,000-500,000+ year cycles... and more!Packed with references. This is science without censorship written in a manner that anyone can follow.


A remarkable and fascinating book. I thought that Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs, and Steel" had created the gold standard for ecological history, but Flannery gives him a run for his money and, in some respects, surpasses him. While Diamond's scope and goals are more grandiose (to explain from first principles why Europeans ended up ruling the world, if only for a while), Flannery's analysis of the ecological history of Australasia is more detailed and left me with a much better understanding of and appreciation for the complex networks of cause and effect that define and influence ecological systems as they change over time. I also felt like, after reading "The Future Eaters", I understood much better the intellectual challenge of piecing together thousands of disparate clues from many fields of study to derive a big picture explanation of why things are the way they are. Flannery knows a vast number of facts, but he thinks in terms of systems, and this allows him to arrive at convincing explanations of what must have happened in the past based on not only what exists now and in the fossil record, but also on the gaps, on what is missing.The conclusions he reaches have relevance not only for those who are interested in Australasia's past and the present, but also for those who would understand what sorts of futures are possible for the region. In particular, his observations about the limited carrying capacity of the Australian ecosystem should be required reading for all Australians and their political representatives who advocate continued immigration. It may be a huge and sparsely settled country, but from an ecological perspective it is probably already overpopulated.

Marianne Broadgate

Amazing book, so much information, well-written, fascinating.

Adam Cherson

I rate this book a 4.25 on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being best. This is one of the best environmental histories I’ve ever come across. It is simply a mind blowing description of what has happened to the fauna of Australia and environs from the beginning until today. Chock full of interesting hypotheses and speculations:Dr Jonathon Kingdon...has recently developed a hypothesis about the nature of the ancestors of Australians that seems to fit the few well known facts well. He suggests that when modern humans finally reached South-East Asia some 100,000 years ago, they rapidly evolved to suit the unique environment in which they found themselves. He notes that South-East Asia is particularly rich in near shore marine environments which offer extraordinarily rich pickings for large omnivorous primates such as humans......If people were to exploit such resources, they would have had to develop a number of physical and cultural adaptations to help them deal with their new environment....If people were to gather food on the littoral, they would have had to spend long hours exposed to the glare of the midday sun while foraging on beaches, mudflats, and reefs. The risk of sun stroke and skin cancer would have made this extremely dangerous. Their defence consisted of the development of very black skin. Kingdon points out that the primitive skin color for humans is an all-purpose brown, and that very black skin is as extraordinary a deviation from this as white skin...Kingdon calls these first truly black people the Banda, after the islands of the Inner and Outer Arcs north of Australia which, he postulates, were their ancestral home...The move east into Australia/New Guinea would have been the shortest, and perhaps the first major migration they undertook. But they also appear to have migrated far to the west, along the littoral of the Indian Ocean out to the Andaman Islands...and back into the African homeland of all humanity. There, they displaced the original honey-colored Africans from many habitats in coastal and equatorial Africa. 153-155Perhaps the most immediate problem with attributing the extinctions of large mammals to changes associated with the last ice age is that it is only the most recent of 17 ice ages that have gripped the Earth over the past two million years. Some...have been more severe....Sixteen of the world’s 17 ice ages passed without causing dramatic extinctions. 184On Dr Gifford Miller: Miller’s findings are quite extraoprdinary for, combined with the ideas developed here, they suggest that the extinction of the mega-herbivores may have altered the climate of an entire continent. Such enormous climatic change has never before been postulated to have resulted from an extinction event. 235Until around 60,000 years ago, Australia’s ecosystems were fully self-sustaining. Then, vast extinctions devastated the entire continent. Following this, for about 60,000 years Aborigines managed the crippled ecosystems, preventing them from degenerating further. Now, Europeans have arrived and forced the discontinuance of that management. These changes beg the question of what we should aim for in our management of reserved lands. Should we aim to keep them as they are today, as they were 200 years ago, or as they were 60,000 years ago, when they functioned without interference of humans? 380


awesome i loved it


Fascinating, humbling, and sobering ecological history of Australasia (i.e. Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea).

Peter Macinnis

I worked with Tim at the Australian Museum, and when I read this, I kept slapping myself on the forehead, saying "I knew that". It was only later that I realised we had been sitting on the same exhibition design committee, and I had been quietly absorbing his ideas.If he had not written this, I might have done, which would have been scurvy on two counts -- first, he would have been ripped off, and second, the public would have been ripped off, because Tim is a better writer.

John Jordan

An excellent journey through the history of the spread of human civilization and its impact on the environment, flora and fauna. How the envoronment also shaped the migration patterns, particularly of Australasia.


I have just begun to read this book which I've had on my to read shelf for several years. I've always held this one up there as a kind of dessert or reward for reading because I just knew it would be good and so far I am not disappointed.Two Weeks Later: I've just finished reading 'The Future Eaters'. What an amazing book. I had to put it aside a few times to absorb this complex and comprehensive history (several hundred thousand years of it) of Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, New Caledonia, Tasmania as well as some of the smaller islands making up Australasia. I was fascinated by the radical changes to the flora and fauna that occurred after the first people arrived over 60,000 years ago and the adjustments made in the thousands of years that followed. Australia's people and its flora and fauna had reached a stable coexistence before the new wave of people from Europe arrived just over 200 years ago! More change occurred in this short period than had occurred in probably over 40,000 years. It gives me pause to think about how quickly life on earth can change if not properly managed by its human population. Excellent book if you're looking for something truly thought provoking.


looking at past behaviour gives insights into humans current disregard for the planet


Wow, this is an incredible book. It's very much in the vein of Jared Diamond, but Australia-specific. I can't recommend it highly enough.My dad assigned it to his class seven years ago when he took them (and me) on a tour of Aboriginal Australia. I read the other two books but didn't get to the this one. I'm glad I suggested reading it for book club, which forced me to sit down and finally read it.60,000 years ago man arrived in Australia and wiped out the megafauna. Then they had to deal with the fact that they'd wiped out their food source, in a spectacularly resource-poor land. In the millenia since, the land shaped their society so that ecological balance became dependent upon Aboriginal firestick farming -- which ceased when the Europeans came.Uh, trigger warning for genocide?The book has two weaknesses: 1) There are very few Aboriginal voices or opinions in it; 2) it was published in 1994, and science has progressed a lot since then. I want an updated version, with the controversies that have been settled by discoveries in the archaeological record, and with the new controversies that have emerged since!


What an interesting book! Tim Flannery takes us back to the first human settlements on the Australian continent, and compares the extinction of the megafauna with the New Zealand experience. A huge wealth of fascinating information about the ecosystems in these beautiful and unique countries. I loved this book!


Interesting perspective of how Australians flora and fauna were shaped over time.

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