Perched at a precipitous confluence of environmental history and the critical history of colonialism, John Ryan Fischer’s study of the cattle industry of the eastern Pacific in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries offers a unique vantage point for assessing the choppy waters between these fields—tensions that, for the most part, Fischer successfully navigates. From the traditional perspectives of environmental historians, the conquests of California and Hawai’i were classic examples of biological invasion. So-called nonnative animals such as cattle quickly and easily outcompeted native species, spreading diseases, disturbing fragile ecologies, and setting the material conditions for the colonial creation of “neo-Europes” (to borrow Alfred Crosby’s term) across much of the Americas and the Pacific. More recently, environmental historians fascinated by climate change and other global phenomena have taken to explaining conquest through the idiom of “big history,” crediting the Little Ice Age,...

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