For too long, historians have failed “to recognize the importance of shit to history” (p. 5). So argues Gregory T. Cushman in this meticulous study of Peruvian guano, the seabirds that produce it, and their impact on global environments. Ambitious in scope, the book's nine chapters span five centuries and traverse the far reaches of the planet while demonstrating how this untidy product of the upwelling ecosystem off the Peruvian coast helped give rise to industrial agriculture, modern warfare, and the conservationist ideas that continue to shape contemporary environmental debates.

Cushman trails the coveted bird droppings and the technocrats who studied them, from Peru — the focus of his 2003 dissertation — to Europe, Japan, and remote islands of the Pacific. One of his chief aims is to redefine the Pacific world as a realm in which Latin America played a key...

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