The Great Extinctions: What Causes Them and How They Shape Life

Category: Book
By (author): MacLeod, Norman
Subject:  SCIENCE / Earth Sciences / General
  SCIENCE / Life Sciences / Evolution
  SCIENCE / Paleontology
Publisher: Firefly Books
Published: January 2015
Format: Book-paperback
Pages: 208
Size: 10.00in x 7.25in x 0.50in

Additional Notes

From The Publisher*

Population sizes of vertebrate species -- mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish -- have declined by 52 percent over the last 40 years. in other words, those populations around the globe have dropped by more than half in fewer than two human generations.
-- World Wildlife Fund Living Planet report 2014

This book straddles an awkward boundary between being a colorful popular work and a scientific literature review.... Profusely and beautifully illustrated with figures, maps, charts, and period reconstructions. Recommended.
-- Choice

A good introduction to the great puzzle that is extinction study.
-- Publishers Weekly

Selected by the Scientific American Book Club and now a more affordable paperback for a far-wider audience.

For more than a century scientists have tried to identify and understand the precise processes responsible for species extinction. Solving the species extinction puzzle has become even more important, even urgent, as human populations and technologies rival sea-level change, volcanic eruptions and asteroid impacts as an extinction mechanism.

The Great Extinctions explores the search for an understanding of Earth's five great extinction events and whether the sixth is upon us already. Leading paleontologist Norman MacLeod examines the controversies and conclusions and what they mean to the efforts to preserve Earth's biodiversity.

He also reveals how, contrary to popular conception, species extinction is as natural a process as species evolution. Examining extinction over geological time, he compares ancient extinction events and uses them to predict future extinctions.

Featuring the latest scientific evidence on the subject and informative illustrations and diagrams, The Great Extinctions is an easy-to-understand presentation of a complex and controversial subject.

Review Quote*[Review of hardcover edition] MacLeod takes readers on an interesting 500 million year excursion through the history of life and death on Earth. The first five chapters provide definitions, context, and historical perspective for the current understanding of stratigraphy, the fossil record, and the classification of life within an evolutionary framework. The book concisely offers insight into the limits of knowledge within these fields, and these insights give non-experts some basis to evaluate competing opinions. Macleod also provides a window into the to-and-fro of the scientific process where theories can migrate from the lunatic fringe to scientific orthodoxy as new observations come to light. MacLeod analyses eight extinction events beginning in the Precambrian Eon and working towards the near past. Each chapter follows a format that allows readers to compare key elements from each event. Scientific terminology from the geological timescale and biological classification can be daunting but excellent graphs, pictures, and diagrams help to clarify and enliven difficult subject matter. Overall, it is a good introduction to the great puzzle that is extinction study, impressive in its presentation of the scope of work already done and tantalizing to the curious with countless mysteries still unsolved.
Biographical Note

Norman MacLeod is Keeper of Palaeontology at the Natural History Museum, London. He studies the origin and maintenance of form in fossil and modern organisms using mathematical models of shape variation. He also creates new mathematical tools for studying plant and animal form and develops systems for automating the identification of species.