The most recommended books on extinction events

Who picked these books? Meet our 12 experts.

12 authors created a book list connected to extinction events, and here are their favorite extinction events books.
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Book cover of Extinctions: Living and Dying in the Margin of Error

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

From my list on mass extinctions of life.

Why am I passionate about this?

A visit to the American Museum of Natural History when I was seven years old hooked me on dinosaurs and geology in general. I have maintained that passion to uncover the history of the earth with fieldwork on all seven continents, cutting-edge research, and teaching undergraduates to appreciate the implications of our tenancy on the planet, and our place within the solar system, the galaxy, and the wider universe.

Michael's book list on mass extinctions of life

Michael R. Rampino Why did Michael love 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.

By Michael Hannah,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Extinctions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Are we now entering a mass extinction event? What can mass extinctions in Earth's history tell us about the Anthropocene? What do mass extinction events look like and how does life on Earth recover from them? The fossil record reveals periods when biodiversity exploded, and short intervals when much of life was wiped out in mass extinction events. In comparison with these ancient events, today's biotic crisis hasn't (yet) reached the level of extinction to be called a mass extinction. But we are certainly in crisis, and current parallels with ancient mass extinction events are profound and deeply worrying. Humanity's…


Book cover of Death from the Skies!: The Science Behind the End of the World

Tom Evans Author Of Soulwaves: A Future History

From my list on the future of the human race.

Why am I passionate about this?

Tom spent the first 30 years of his professional life at the cutting edge of the broadcast industry. He has always been fascinated by new technology and more specifically how it allows humans to evolve and work smarter and better. He is also a sci-fi fan and has a keen interest in both cosmology and metaphysics. He says that today's metaphysics is tomorrow’s physics. So his book choices mirror his fascinations which are in what lies in the future for humanity, bearing in mind that science fiction especially has a tendency to become science fact at some time or other. If we humans are capable of imagining something, then we seem to develop the ability to make it happen.

Tom's book list on the future of the human race

Tom Evans Why did Tom love this book?

This is not a fiction book per se but each chapter sets out a possible future, in a story-like form, of how life as we know it might be terminated on Earth. We know for a fact that mass extinctions have happened before but this time, we may well have the smarts to do something about it. This book inspires us to look up not down and marvel at the cosmos that made us but that also might unmake us. It is a clarion call for us to become planetary caretakers, rather than planetary abusers.

By Philip Plait,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Death from the Skies! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With wit, humor, and an infectious love of astronomy that could win over even the science-phobic, this fun and fascinating book reminds us that outer space is anything but remote. The scientist behind the popular website badastronomy.com, Philip Plait presents some of the most fearsome end-of-the-world calamities (for instance, incoming asteroids and planet-swallowing black holes), demystifies the scientific principles at work behind them, and gives us the odds that any of them will step out of the realm of sci-fi to disrupt our quiet corner of the cosmos. The result is a book that is both terrifying and entertaining?a tour…


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

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

From my list on mass extinctions of life.

Why am I passionate about this?

A visit to the American Museum of Natural History when I was seven years old hooked me on dinosaurs and geology in general. I have maintained that passion to uncover the history of the earth with fieldwork on all seven continents, cutting-edge research, and teaching undergraduates to appreciate the implications of our tenancy on the planet, and our place within the solar system, the galaxy, and the wider universe.

Michael's book list on mass extinctions of life

Michael R. Rampino Why did Michael love 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.

By Peter Brannen,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Ends of the World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A book about one apocalypse - much less five - could have been a daunting read, were it not for the wit, lyricism, and clarity that Peter Brannen brings to every page.' Ed Yong, author of I Contain Multitudes

Apocalypse, now?

Death by fire, ice, poison gas, suffocation, asteroid. At five moments through history life on Earth was dragged to the very edge of extinction.

Now, armed with revolutionary technology, scientists are uncovering clues about what caused these catastrophes. Deep-diving into past worlds of dragonflies the size of seagulls and fishes with guillotines for mouths, they explore how - against…


Book cover of The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

Caro Feely Author Of Cultivating Change: Regenerating Land and Love in the Age of Climate Crisis

From my list on biodiversity, plants and natural magic.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a published author specializing in nature, travel, and wine writing, and I have been an organic farmer for nearly two decades on an award-winning estate in France. I’ve written four books about the transformation of our organic farm. In my latest, Cultivating Change, I explore how biodiversity helps us address climate change and how important it is to the health of the land. It is also a human story; like the books below, stories are key to bringing these subjects to life. My list is women authors, not because I set out to do that, but because these books are beautiful, intuitive, and deep, like the women who wrote them.

Caro's book list on biodiversity, plants and natural magic

Caro Feely Why did Caro love this book?

Elizabeth Kolbert is a respected science writer. In this book, she pieces together hard facts, historical background, and personal stories to help us understand the 6th extinction currently underway.

This deeply researched book doesn’t just leap to blame climate change (which is a factor) but looks at this loss of biodiversity through a much wider lens of humankind’s impact on our environment. Kolbert is a gifted writer and entertainer who finds ways to bring humor to this dark subject. 

By Elizabeth Kolbert,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The Sixth Extinction as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions of life on earth.

Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs.

Elizabeth Kolbert combines brilliant field reporting, the history of ideas and the work of geologists, botanists and marine biologists to tell the gripping stories of a dozen species - including the Panamanian golden frog and the Sumatran rhino - some already gone, others at the point of vanishing.

The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most…


Book cover of Infinity in the Palm of Your Hand: Fifty Wonders That Reveal an Extraordinary Universe

Brian Clegg Author Of What Do You Think You Are? The Science of What Makes You You

From my list on making the deep mysteries of science approachable.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a science writer with over 40 books published. Science is central to all our modern lives—but for many people it feels remote, and difficult to understand. I love the opportunity to communicate science—to turn it from a collection of facts into stories that people can relate to. I always read popular science before I got into writing, but, if anything, I read it even more now. My own background is physics and math—and I enjoy reading and writing about that—but sometimes, it’s particularly interesting to pull together different aspects of science that affect all of us, crossing disciplines and uncovering the wonders that science bring us.

Brian's book list on making the deep mysteries of science approachable

Brian Clegg Why did Brian love this book?

Sometimes you don’t want an intensely detailed exploration of a topic, but rather a series of interesting articles—and these 50 ‘wonders that reveal an extraordinary universe’ are an ideal way of dipping into some of the strangest and most wonderful aspects of modern science. Although each topic only lasts a few pages, it’s enough to get you interested and is bound to make you tell someone nearby about it. When you’ve read one, it’s hard not to go on and read a few more.

By Marcus Chown,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Infinity in the Palm of Your Hand as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A mind-bending journey through some of the most weird and wonderful facts about our universe, vividly illuminating the hidden truths that govern our everyday lives.

Fact: You could fit the whole human race in the volume of a sugar cube.

Fact: The electrical energy in a single mosquito is enough to cause a global mass extinction.

Fact: You age more quickly on the top floor than on the ground floor.

So much of our world seems to make perfect sense, and scientific breakthroughs have helped us understand ourselves, our planet, and our place in the universe in fascinating detail. But…


Book cover of T. Rex and the Crater of Doom

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

From my list on mass extinctions of life.

Why am I passionate about this?

A visit to the American Museum of Natural History when I was seven years old hooked me on dinosaurs and geology in general. I have maintained that passion to uncover the history of the earth with fieldwork on all seven continents, cutting-edge research, and teaching undergraduates to appreciate the implications of our tenancy on the planet, and our place within the solar system, the galaxy, and the wider universe.

Michael's book list on mass extinctions of life

Michael R. Rampino Why did Michael love 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.

By Walter Alvarez,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked T. Rex and the Crater of Doom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Sixty-five million years ago, a comet or asteroid larger than Mount Everest slammed into the Earth, inducing an explosion equivalent to the detonation of a hundred million hydrogen bombs. Vaporized detritus blasted through the atmosphere upon impact, falling back to Earth around the globe. Disastrous environmental consequences ensued: a giant tsunami, continent-scale wildfires, darkness, and cold, followed by sweltering greenhouse heat. When conditions returned to normal, half the plant and animal genera on Earth had perished. This horrific chain of events is now widely accepted as the solution to a great scientific mystery: what caused the extinction of the dinosaurs?…


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

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

From my list on mass extinctions of life.

Why am I passionate about this?

A visit to the American Museum of Natural History when I was seven years old hooked me on dinosaurs and geology in general. I have maintained that passion to uncover the history of the earth with fieldwork on all seven continents, cutting-edge research, and teaching undergraduates to appreciate the implications of our tenancy on the planet, and our place within the solar system, the galaxy, and the wider universe.

Michael's book list on mass extinctions of life

Michael R. Rampino Why did Michael love 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.

By Paul B. Wignall,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Worst of Times as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Two hundred sixty million years ago, life on Earth suffered wave after wave of cataclysmic extinctions, with the worst wiping out nearly every species on the planet. The Worst of Times delves into the mystery behind these extinctions and sheds light on the fateful role the primeval supercontinent, known as Pangea, might have played in causing these global catastrophes. Drawing on the latest discoveries as well as his own firsthand experiences conducting field expeditions to remote corners of the world, Paul Wignall reveals what scientists are only now beginning to understand about the most prolonged and calamitous period of environmental…