Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Spring 2011


Great Plains Research 21.1 (2011), p 107.


© 2011 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Covering 500 years in 500 pages, Paradise Found details the amazing abundance of the natural world that greeted the first European arrivals to North America. Such a perspective is not wholly original; pre-Columbian biodiversity has been a popular topic of investigation for two generations of scholars. But as filmmaker, entomologist, and author Steve Nicholls explains, past catalogs of plenty have, if anything, underestimated the bounty of the precontact physical world. Explaining in full detail the transition from ecological complexity to fragile instability makes the narrative of loss all the more powerful. Paradise Found is short on silver linings. This account is not a celebration of what once was, but a declensionist narrative. As Nicholls explains, European mercantilists arrived on a continent rich in resources, paused for a brief moment, and then went to work. Studying this process does have value, however, as a "deep perspective" on the ecological past can, the author insists, help us better manage our "modern environmental crises."