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Publisher's Summary

From the author of Apocalyptic Planet, an unsparing, vivid, revelatory travelogue through prehistory that traces the arrival of the First People in North America 20,000 years ago and the artifacts that enable us to imagine their lives and fates.

Scientists squabble over the locations and dates for human arrival in the New World. The first explorers were few, encampments fleeting. At some point in time, between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago, sea levels were low enough that a vast land bridge was exposed between Asia and North America. But the land bridge was not the only way across. 

This book upends our notions of where these people came from and who they were. The unpeopled continent they reached was inhabited by megafauna - mastodons, sloths, mammoths, saber-toothed cats, lions, bison, and bears. The First People were not docile - Paleolithic spear points are still encrusted with the protein of their prey - but they were wildly outnumbered, and many were prey to the much larger animals. This is a chronicle of the last millennia of the Ice Age, the gradual oscillations and retreat of glaciers, the clues and traces that document the first encounters of early humans, and the animals whose presence governed the humans' chances for survival.

©2018 Craig Childs (P)2018 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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Lyrical musings on a lost world

This is not a scientific text. Not even close. What this is, is a lyrical travelogue through ice age sites in America. Childs doesn't show us The Story of prehistoric man on this continent, but rather A Story, filled with possibilities, even probabilities, based on evidence of tool-making, camp sites, kill sites, and his own vivid imaginings of what his experiences in these places might have been like ten or fifteen thousand years ago.

Moving back and forth from his own travels to his recreation of ice age life in the same spots, Childs captures a deep sense of what early man must have endured to be here, and what he must have found to keep him here. Childs tracks the megafauna like mammoths and mastodons, the evolution of knapped stone tools, migration patterns. He thinks deeply about the meaning behind what he finds, and creates what feels like a dialogue with the earth, and the spirits of those who who first walked here.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the discussion of first humans. The dates for the first human habitation of the Americas keep getting moved back in time as research -- often vigorously denied and equally vigorously defended -- unearths earlier and earlier human made objects. While Childs seems to believe the evidence for far earlier habitation, he is careful to present different points of view.  He even mentions the "Solutrean hypothesis" which posits that the earliest human migration to the Americas came from Europe about 21,000 years ago, not Asia. He's quick to point out that the hypothesis is most popular with white nationalists who choose to believe that the origins of the Americas were European not Asia. He is also is quick to point out that even if it was true, something genetic research has cast serious doubt on, Solutrean man would have been very far from modern Europeans and much more like Cheddar Man. 

Childs asks a great many questions, and presents a great many possible answers, but what he gives us is a highly personal view of ice age life, filtered through his 21st century life and experience. He hasn't written a scientific treatise, he's written a love letter to a time and place long gone, but deeply important, and very much to be cherished as what makes the Americas what they are today.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Great Writer

I haven't studied the subject of migrations to the Americas before, and had no idea that people came here so long ago. Childs speaks very poetically about their trials and movements and adaptations in moving from place to place. I found this whole recording captured my imagination and led me to understand the human search for new places and our ability to adapt.
Very educational work.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Fantasy of a Lost World

The first part of this book is engaging as the author recounts his explorations of the Bering Land Bridge and how humans may have crossed it 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. But as the book continues and the author continues his explorations down the west coast of the Americas and then through the mainland US, you begin to realize that he doesn't base his narratives on the strength of the archeological evidence but that of his fantasies of swashbuckling ancient explorers with shreds of evidence to buttress his description of the life of the early inhabitants of this continent. And while enjoyable at first, this fantasy narration becomes tedious.
I am in the 12th of the 13 chapters of the book where the author and several companions are hiking across a desert expanse to visit the annual Burning Man gathering and I am not sure I will finish the book. While I always enjoy reading and about and viewing pictures of the Burning Man celebrations, the author's feeble attempts to tie Burning Man to the lives of the first peoples of this continent seem like an insult to Archeology and to those people. There are better accounts of this history, such as those by Charles Mann, and they are far more interesting and informative.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Blaaaa

Boring. No facts. All feelings. A must not read if you want info on this subject.

233 of 335 people found this review helpful

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Immersive, Enjoyable, and Educational

Craig Childs' passionate narration of the peopling of the Americas transports the reader back into time when humans first appeared in near-Eden at the dawn of the Holocene. Atlas of a Lost World rates up there with Guns, Germs, and Steel. It is filled with facts and information, but told in a way that appeals to the layman versus the egotistical PhD. The author clearly takes on the Clovis-First zealots by weaving together multiple examples of pre-Clovis discoveries into a complex migration story that is both factual and fascinating. What makes this book so excellent is that the author interjects his own wilderness experiences to portray what Paleo-Indians may have experienced as they faced endless ice sheets, extreme weather, and the rich diversity of ice-age fauna. He tells the story of waking up on top of a glacier listening to song birds high up on the ice, and then wondering if the annual southern migration of birds nesting in the arctic may have motivated the Paleo-Indians to cross the glaciers long before the ice-free corridor opened? This is but one of many examples where Childs thinks outside the box to explain what the migration facts are saying. And while some of his ideas are clearly subjective, he never claims them as facts, and at least he IS thinking!!! I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the origins of humans in the Americas; but don’t bother if you have a closed and boring mind.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Amy
  • Pittsburgh, PA, United States
  • 09-07-18

Too fast

The recording is a little too fast, not so fast that you could listen at 75%, but too fast to enjoy

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Loved this book!

Loved this book.,The author explores the history of man populating north America. The reader gets to travel with him to extreme locations, temperatures and experience some of what it was like to be paleo man. the future is not so bright as we head into the next era.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Excellent!

Beautifully written. It reads like poetry drawing 'pictures with words' of the Pleistocene past. Megafauna, long gone from this earth rising again from the author's brushstrokes as he paints a canvas of humans. landscapes and animals interacting through the ages.

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Not for the uninitiated

Readers who praised this book must have had some background in prehistoric history. I enjoy learning about subjects I know little about, but I know no more than when I started it. Not a “travelogue” or an introduction to how the prehistoric world would have been.

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Half prehistory, half travelogue

This book delves into the origins of the initial colonization of what would become the Americas by paleolithic peoples. Prior to listening to this book, I knew very little about this topic aside from the general concept of the Bering land bridge and something about Clovis. Craig Childs excels in painting a clear picture of what life must have been like for these first arrivals, who were forever surrounded by hungry megafauna and exposed to the whims of an unstable climate. He also does a decent job of presenting a general chronological history of how the early exploration and colonization may have happened. Interspersed throughout the story of the ancient peoples are Criag Childs' accounts of his own travels through the same lands these early people traversed, which add a different character to this book than might be found in a more traditional, straightforward history. Craig Childs is a good narrator.

Despite the above, I have a couple of criticisms of "Atlas of a Lost World." First, Craig Childs' accounts of his own travels get to be too long and repetitive after a while. They have the potential to add a little depth and personality to the book and to make the reader emphasize with the paleolithic people, but sometimes they just drag on too long and get a little too sidetracked or self-involved. I can see why Craig Childs has been featured on NPR; he tends to delve into the sort of self-reflective stories about day-to-day minutiae that characterize a lot of NPR's content. If you appreciate this sort of thing this book will appeal to you, but I get tired of it after a while. Also, in the second half of the book Craig Childs spends a lot of time delving into different types of spearheads and where they are found in order to argue for or against theories about different colonization patterns in the Americas. This gets to be a little too tedious and hard to follow, especially in an audiobook format.