- The Natural History of Texas ed. by Brian R. Chapman and Eric G. Bolen
This volume is three things. It is a well-designed coffee table book with dramatic maps and vivid color photographs, and a pleasure to admire. Second, it is a painstaking work of scientific exposition. The authors describe species, ecosystems, and soil types in remarkable detail, particularly so because the result is not tedious to read. Third, the book is not only a constant reminder of how humans have mistreated our environment but also how we could save nearly extinct species if funds and willpower were marshaled to save them. And, just as the authors describe detail without tedium, they describe problems without lamentation or sermonette.
The authors divide the state into twelve regions, from the high plains in the north to the brushlands in the south, and from bottomland swamps and pine barrens in the east to the parched deserts of the Trans-Pecos in the west. The authors' accurate descriptions of the diversity and variety of these areas reveal their delight in them.
I also found the accounts of Texas's subregions fascinating. For example, if one drives from Dallas southwest to the Brazos River, one is in the Cross Timbers and prairies (very roughly, North Texas). When one crosses the Brazos, however, which the authors identify as the Lampasas Cut Plain, we find a hybrid of North Texas and the Hill Country. Another subregion with puzzling physical identities is the Stockton Plateau, a sizable component of the mountainous Trans-Pecos with similarities to the Hill Country or Edwards Plateau. Somewhat incongruously, it is flat-to-rolling limestone country with its share of caves. A third, equally interesting subregion is the Tamaulipan Mezquital, which, as its name suggests, is the joint property of Texas and Mexico.
Jigsawed into the book's general narrative are interesting cameos: page-long accounts of people, creatures, and events that have played significant roles in the state's environmental history. Prominent environmentalists, accounts of squirrel migrations, rattlesnake roundups, and now extinct fauna all appear. Turpentines and Osage orange trees share space with Lady Bird Johnson and American Indian medicine. There is even an account of the life and achievements of Judge Roy Bean that leaves the reader thoroughly informed about Bean's achievements and confused about how he avoided being hanged.
Finally, as if the authors had not presented enough facts, The Natural History of Texas ends with five informative sections: symbols of Texas (e.g. state plant, tree, reptile), a glossary of scientific names, a glossary of technical terms (e.g. biomass, butte, coppice dunes), a list of readings and references, and finally, an extensive index. Together these sections alone consist of more than one hundred pages. [End Page 244]
I will place this book on the shelf between two other exemplars of natural beauty, scientific accuracy, and Texas's people: David Todd and Jonathon Ogren's The Texas Landscape Project (Texas A&M University Press, 2016) and F. E. Abernathy's Let the River Run Wild (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2013). I invite the reader to do likewise. [End Page 245]