Picks and Pans Review: Three Levels of Time

updated 07/13/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/13/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Harold T.P. Hayes

Hayes, editor of Esquire from 1963 to 1973, begins this remarkable and audacious book with a real-life parable: Every year herds of wildebeests on Tanzania's Serengeti Plains eat just enough grass to survive and never too much to prevent its replenishment. Humans who live nearby feed cattle on the same grass but show little interest in restricting their grazing; their land is turning to desert. The question Hayes poses is, "How do the wildebeests know to manage their resources whereas man does not?" That leads inevitably to a Bigger Question—Why is man the only species to destroy his own habitat?—and then to the Biggest Questions: Who are we? How did we get here? Seeking answers, Hayes talked to experts studying the same issues: Soviet biochemist A.I. Oparin, English ornithologist W.H. Thorpe, Kenyan paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey and nine others. They respond informally and lucidly, discussing everything from dinosaurs to butterflies. Hayes is no scientist, but he has researched the field sufficiently to sprinkle in concise essays on cosmology, Darwinism, genetic theory, food chains and rain forests. He bleakly concludes: "The mammals of this earth (of which we are one species) are moving toward extinction." Man's evolved intelligence, one scientist tells Hayes, has led him to become the victim of his cleverness. Now that same intelligence—vividly symbolized by Hayes' account of a man's 16-day struggle to escape from a wrecked car near Mount Rainier, Wash.—is man's only hope of salvation. (Dutton, $13.50)

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