Throughout human history, people have struggled with two competing impulses: the desire to make a mark for future generations, and a deep confusion about what, exactly, that mark should be.
When I was readying my first novel for publication, it struck me that writers have far more control over what’s in their books than what’s onthem—the cover art, blurbs, jacket copy, but especially the title, where the author’s concerns overlap with marketing ones. Deciding on a name for your life’s work is hard enough; the prospect of changing it at the eleventh hour is like naming your newborn, then hearing the obstetrician say, But wouldn’t Sandra look amazing on the certificate? It took a nine-month war of attrition to secure the original title of my book, Private Citizens.
With so many possible explanations for what went wrong, the real one had better reach a high bar. Does it? I had doubts. But this much is clear: Mr. Hawley has made it very, very easy to race through his book in a state of breathless suspense. Get to that endpoint. Then you can decide.
At one since-disappeared location in Flower Mound, Texas, a picnic table is covered by a roof in the shape of longhorns. A curved aluminum shelter offers shade amidst the arctic-like glow of White Sands National Monument, New Mexico. In Blackwell, Oklahoma, a bench surrounded by a minimalist arrangement of wooden poles suggests a teepee.
Although the extinction of the dinosaurs tends to get most of the attention (I’m not bitter, honestly), it is worth considering that plant fossils are excellent indicators of environmental change, and that if we are interested in understanding precisely what happened to life on land at the end of the Cretaceous, then the plant fossil record is a pretty good place to look.