Natural history or not, you can’t call a book Europe now, or maybe ever, without calling politics into play. And what Flannery is trying to do, both in passages like this and throughout the text, is quite clear. Against a long and ignoble tradition of European chauvinism whose core doctrines have been exceptionalism, race thinking and white supremacy – a tradition today expressed most clearly as a pan-European xenophobic obsession with immigration and racial replacement – he presents a counter-image, sanctioned by natural history: Europe as a crossroads, nature’s ‘receiver of immigrants’, ever since the time of the dinosaurs. It is no fortress of purity. It is a place whose essence is and has always been hybridity, migration and endless change. The political implication is plain.
In this journey from prehistory to the present day, Flannery offers a bold and rich panorama of Europe’s ecological history. He vividly describes how the European landmass was created and shaped, and how its flora and fauna evolved. Europe is “where the investigation of the deep past began”, and this book is also about the science that has brought ancient history alive... The climate crisis and globalisation raise new challenges: almost every European tree is threatened by an Asiatic disease or parasite. Industrial farming has also reduced the bird population by 421 million in just three decades. But Flannery’s superb study shows that Europe is a land of “exceptional dynamism” and resilience.