Ben Goldfarb / W. W. Norton & Company / 384 pages

“To us, roads signify connection and escape; to other life-forms, they spell death and division.” Ben Goldfarb’s Crossings: How Road Ecology Is Shaping the Future of Our Planet is an engaging study of “road ecology,” or how the invention of cars—and the paved roads that followed—have impacted life on Earth, including that of humans. 

Goldfarb, who holds a Masters of Environmental Management from Yale and is an award-winning author and environmental journalist, explains that, for many species, cars have rendered evolution maladaptive: tried and true fight, flight, or freeze responses can prove deadly in encounters with fast-moving cars. This book is an engaging account of the unique challenges faced by different species that must navigate around this “moving fence.” Some avoid roads altogether—thwarting migrations and potentially trapping them in unnaturally small territories with no mates. Others attempt to cross roads and highways, often with disastrous consequences for themselves (more than a million wild vertebrates are killed on US roads every day; for some endangered species, roadkill is the leading cause of death) and for drivers (wildlife vehicle collisions lead to approximately 200 human deaths and 26,000 injuries in the United States each year). Other species are attracted to the road—to bask on the asphalt (snakes), scavenge roadkill (eagles), or feed on roadside plants, sometimes to be swept up in wind vortices created by passing trucks (butterflies). 

While Crossings is an eye-opening account of the wide-ranging consequences of something that is “so ubiquitous [it’s] practically invisible to us,” it also investigates the myriad mitigation efforts. Here we follow Goldfarb as he meets various characters—scientists, rehabbers, engineers, city officials—seeking ways to protect wildlife from the collisions, noise, and pollution created by cars on roads. 

Goldfarb, who also authored the award-winning book Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter, is a gifted writer with a knack for explaining complex issues in a satisfying mix of prose and science.

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