Ben Goldfarb has taken exhaustive research, extensive interviews, and in-the-field observations with dedicated beaver researchers and enthusiasts to create as near-perfect an exposition of natural history and biology as I have ever read. The North American Beaver (genus Castor canadensis) is a large, primarily nocturnal, semi-aquatic rodent and an absolutely marvelous creature. I have always loved beavers, in fact I have one living very close to me. I have sat for long periods of time watching one industriously gathering material to build their lodge, puttering about in mountain streams, and once I was delighted to look down and see one paddling along side me in my kayak They are enthralling in their natural habitat. As I was reading this fine book I was constantly struck by the many and varied ecological and environmental benefits bestowed by this animal upon the land. In fact, the land we now occupy, in particular in the arid American West, has been irrevocably changed by the near extirpation of beavers from the western landscape in by over-trapping in the early 19th century. Let's be clear, in the roughly 20 years of rapacious trapping and near extinction of beavers, driven by the market for beaver pelts to meet the need for fashionable hats in the northeastern United States and Europe, the geography and hydrogeology of this country was changed forever.
The land that we inhabit was once covered mostly by water, with vast wetlands, ponds and lakes created by the world's second largest rodent (the South American capybara is the largest). Rivers meandered through the countryside with flood control provided by extensive breastworks which stored water and released it back into the watersheds over the course of the year. Beavers do not just trap water, back it up, and make problems for ranchers and homeowners living in the lowlands, they create entire ecosystems. They are industrial environmental repair engineers, they build habitats that sustain a staggering amount of animal and plant life. They may even be able to help reverse, or at least ameliorate, some of the most damaging effects of global climate change.
Ben Goldfarb is an excellent natural history journalist, he has a natural affection for quirky people, and trust me the true beaver believers are adorably quirky, he can tell a story and his research is impeccable.
If you enjoy great non-fiction, wonderful story-telling and learning about one of the most interesting, enigmatic animals on the planet, then you will absolutely love this book.