The best books on mass extinctions of life

Michael R. Rampino Author Of Cataclysms: A New Geology for the Twenty-First Century
By Michael R. Rampino

The Books I Picked & Why

T. Rex and the Crater of Doom

By Walter Alvarez

T. Rex and the Crater of Doom

Why this book?

This is the classic story of the amazing discoveries that led to the hypothesis that a large comet or asteroid impact, 66 million years ago, caused a global catastrophe that wiped out the dinosaurs and most other species of life, as told by the discoverer of the critical evidence. Alvarez is a master storyteller—the book is written along the sensational lines of a great scientific murder mystery, solved by geologic detective work, but also relying on mind-bending serendipity. These discoveries by Alvarez and others marked the beginning of an ongoing revolution in the geological sciences and forced geologists to recognize the critical role played by rare, but devastating, catastrophic events in earth history.


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The Worst of Times: How Life on Earth Survived Eighty Million Years of Extinctions

By Paul B. Wignall

The Worst of Times: How Life on Earth Survived Eighty Million Years of Extinctions

Why this book?

Can continental drift lead to mass extinctions of life? In this book, Wignall expounds his provoking hypothesis that gigantic volcanic eruptions, triggered by the arrangement of the world’s landmasses in a single super-continent, led to eighty million years of episodic environmental crises that devastated life again and again. He describes the latest scientific evidence for this volcano-extinction connection and takes us with him on his own exciting field experiences studying these volcanic events in remote corners of the world.


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Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe

By Lisa Randall

Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe

Why this book?

Randall, a noted astrophysicist, explains how the extinction of the dinosaurs could be related to galactic astronomy and the distribution of dark matter in the galaxy. Her fascinating idea involves disturbances of our myriad Oort Cloud comets at the very edge of the solar system by encounters with clouds of exotic dark matter. The collisions with dark matter, the resulting comet storms and mass extinctions occur roughly every 30 million years as we cycle through the galaxy. Her provocative hypothesis provides a potential remarkable consilience of astronomy, geology, and the history of life.


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The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth's Past Mass Extinctions

By Peter Brannen

The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth's Past Mass Extinctions

Why this book?

Brannen examines the major mass extinctions in earth’s past and concurrent times of eruptions of massive floods of lava. He introduces us to the front-line researchers who are using the forensic tools of modern geology to uncover the connection between these titanic eruptions and the release of volcanic gases, severe greenhouse warming, ocean stagnation and eventual mass extinctions of life. This leads to the possibility that catastrophes can come from inside as well as outside the earth.


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Extinctions: Living and Dying in the Margin of Error

By Michael Hannah

Extinctions: Living and Dying in the Margin of Error

Why this book?

The history of life’s diversity, as revealed in the fossil record has been tumultuous. Periods of explosive evolution alternated with times of major species loss. Hannah skillfully utilizes the geologic record to provide a historical context for our current global ecological emergency and the rapid demise of many key species. He makes a strong case that those who ignore the clear messages of geologic history are doomed to experience the worsening “Sixth Extinction” during the newly defined Anthropocene epoch.


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