Western North America preserves a rich record of Eocene life and environments under globally warm climates, and represents an interval where significant coal and other minerals were deposited. The Eocene is of interest to biologists and paleontologists for its record of the appearance and rise to dominance of many plant, insect, and mammal groups now typical of the temperate forests of North America, admixed with groups now well represented in tropical areas or restricted to eastern Asia. This record is also of interest for its potential contribution to our understanding of interactions between climate, the biota, and the ecosystems they occupied, under atmospheric carbon dioxide levels much higher than today. Documentation of the Eocene in western North America offers insights into the effects of future greenhouse climates. A special symposium held at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America in Vancouver, British Columbia, brought together geologists, paleontologists, and biologists with an interest in these questions. This paper introduces the special issue that includes a selection of papers drawn from that symposium as well as on related topics, spanning the Early to Late Eocene, and geographically from British Columbia to Colorado.