22 books directly related to extinction 📚

All 22 extinction books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Extinct Birds

By Julian Hume,

Book cover of Extinct Birds

Why this book?

This book is an encyclopedia of recently extinct birds, and anyone who is interested in this subject should get it. My own book on this matter (also titled Extinct Birds) is a romantic ramble through the subject – accurate and informative in its own way, but serving a rather different purpose to the volume under consideration here.

Julian Hume’s book contains everything that you might wish to know about any recently extinct avian species; indeed it contains virtually everything significant that is actually known! Sometimes the accounts are lengthy, sometimes they are more meagre but in this latter case, it is simply because so little is known about the bird in question.


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

By Lisa Randall,

Book cover of 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.


How to Build a Dinosaur: The New Science of Reverse Evolution

By Jack Horner, James Gorman,

Book cover of How to Build a Dinosaur: The New Science of Reverse Evolution

Why this book?

It’s nice when scientists talk like regular people, with a sense of humor and simple explanations of how impossibly complex stuff works. That’s paleontologist Jack Horner, who has been the dinosaur consultant on all the Jurassic Park films. He’s currently trying to re-create a real-life dinosaur, which he makes sound like tinkering with the engine of a 1960s Mustang. Who me? Just trying to get a chicken embryo to grow into a dinosaur, to see if I can. And if it works, by the way, there’s your proof about the theory of evolution.  


Earth's Wild Music: Celebrating and Defending the Songs of the Natural World

By Kathleen Dean Moore,

Book cover of Earth's Wild Music: Celebrating and Defending the Songs of the Natural World

Why this book?

Earth's Wild Music was published just last year. Kathleen Dean Moore is a naturalist and philosopher, with a keen ear and searching eye. I love the form of this book (a gathering of short essays, or what the poet Ross Gay called “essayettes”) ranging widely across geography and time. It reaches back to my book on slowing down, and forward into my current project, which has to do with the art of listening. The writer Elizabeth Kolbert calls it “a love song to a vanishing world.”


The History of Bees

By Maja Lunde,

Book cover of The History of Bees

Why this book?

I’m personally fascinated by bees (there are a few of them that turn up in my own book), so a speculative novel where they play a starring role was always going to be a must-read for me. Lunde’s novel spans 150 years and reminds us that for all our ingenuity and invention, humans are nowhere near as smart as the natural world, and we mess about with it at our peril. For bee aficionados, there’s a great deal of knowledge in these pages. There’s also thoughtful, reasoned speculation about what the 21st Century will mean for China’s place in the world, and a seamless interweaving of narratives. It’s an often sad novel that reminds us that we’re not as powerful as we think we are. 


The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

By Elizabeth Kolbert,

Book cover of The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

Why this book?

Any book by this writer makes a good read but this one rise above the others—and that is no small feat. This is an odd way to put it but the book brings to life the five catastrophic events that decimated so many species over the course of geological time. The idea of a sixth catastrophic event causing another mass extinction can be seen in human time because human activity is driving the catastrophe. Though it is true that the earth has always had climate change with global warming and cooling, this book shows how dangerous that plain fact can be without context. 


Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction

By Annalee Newitz,

Book cover of Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction

Why this book?

When you study the long arc of history you begin to suspect that apocalypses aren't just inevitable, they're common. And so is survival, which is a really heartening thought. Human beings are crazily adaptable, and our ability to come together in communities (ideally, when we're at our best, which granted isn't always and is hard to see sometimes) will aid our survival. Annalee Newitz tells us how this is has happened before, and how it can happen again.


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

By Peter Brannen,

Book cover of 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.


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

By Paul B. Wignall,

Book cover of 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.


Extinctions: Living and Dying in the Margin of Error

By Michael Hannah,

Book cover of 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.


How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

By Beth Shapiro,

Book cover of How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

Why this book?

Shapiro’s title is a bait-and-switch. She immediately makes clear in big block letters: "WE CAN’T CLONE A MAMMOTH!" It’s impossible. So what is she doing? Well, we can genetically rejigger Asian elephants to resemble woolly mammoths, and that could be useful. Erzats mammoths might help restore the Siberian tundra, and bioengineered, cold-adapted elephants could expand their range north, which would help them survive climate change. Shapiro has little patience for romantic visions of restoring extinct species, but she makes a compelling—and reassuring—case for how we can use bioengineering to save endangered species while they still exist.


Rebirding: Winner of the Wainwright Prize for Writing on Global Conservation: Restoring Britain's Wildlife

By Benedict MacDonald,

Book cover of Rebirding: Winner of the Wainwright Prize for Writing on Global Conservation: Restoring Britain's Wildlife

Why this book?

This is a wonderfully imaginative book. It examines how Britain, a nation of nature lovers with over 1 million members of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, has become one of the most damaged and denuded countries on the planet. Although depressing in parts when looking at the depths of our global biodiversity crisis, this book explains how we can turn this around, heal our land, bring back wildlife, and ensure vibrant rural communities. 


Prehistoric Animals

By J. Augusta, Z. Burian,

Book cover of Prehistoric Animals

Why this book?

This is the book that brought me into the subject of extinction and specifically, as the title suggests, prehistoric creatures.

Published in 1960 at a time when colour printing was in the doldrums, this is the book that broke new ground. And it needed to because it contains reproductions of a wonderful series of paintings by the Czech artist Zdenek Burian, all shown in a large-scale format.

An argument could be made that Burian’s pictures are the most iconic and influential of all images of prehistoric animals, perhaps the only rivals being those created by the American artist Charles R. Knight. This is not to say that many more recent painters (both Burian and Knight were working in the early and middle years of the twentieth century) have failed in their efforts. They certainly have not, but it seems true to say that the painterly quality of Burian and the evocative nature of his pictures have a magic all of their own.

There are those who might say that our knowledge of dinosaurs and the prehistoric world has increased enormously since his time and that therefore some of his images are not entirely in line with current thinking. This may be true but it is beside the point. The celebrated thinker and writer Charles Fort once wrote:

I conceive of nothing, in religion, science, or philosophy that is more than the proper thing to wear – for a while!

Anyone who is interested in the subject should look at this monument in publishing history, in production standards well in advance of most books of its time. Burian’s pictures have been published in many formats over the years, but this was the first in the English language. His images are accompanied by an illuminating – if a little staid – text written by Josef Augusta, an eastern European professor who specialized in prehistoric life. But it is the pictures that make this book unforgettable.


T. Rex and the Crater of Doom

By Walter Alvarez,

Book cover of 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.


Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We're in Without Going Crazy

By Joanna Macy, Chris Johnstone,

Book cover of Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We're in Without Going Crazy

Why this book?

The enormous challenges humanity faces today can be overwhelming to even think about, much less know how to respond. Drawing on the empowerment approach known as the Work That Reconnects, Active Hope has helped me do the inner work needed to face challenges like the climate crises, social and economic injustice and upheaval, species extinction, systemic racism, and increasing threats to democracy. The perspectives and practices the book offers have enabled me to tap into gratitude, resilience, and creativity, and find my own “path of heart” in service to my community, humanity, and the living Earth. (Revised edition to be published in 2022.)


Falling Kingdoms

By Morgan Rhodes,

Book cover of Falling Kingdoms

Why this book?

This is a multi-POV dark fantasy series that I literally could not put down! The cast of characters is quite extensive (very Game of Thrones-esque) and I loved connecting the many storylines. This series has a little bit of everything – romance, action, magic, and of course, the fantasy aspects we all know and love!


Brief Eulogies for Lost Animals

By Daniel Hudon,

Book cover of Brief Eulogies for Lost Animals

Why this book?

I happened to be at a conference of scientists trying to conserve endangered species when I first heard about Daniel Hudon’s book. It struck a chord. It is a beautiful little collection of one hundred eulogies for lost animal species. Some are brief—just a few lines long. Others are more expansive, taking in literature and reportage. But all are poignant reminders of the permanence of extinction. Hudon’s aim is simply to acknowledge that these species existed, to recognize them and make them better known. It is a beautiful and unique collection, stunning in the cumulative force of his poetic words. A perfect gift, Hudon’s tales are both tragic and inspirational. 


The Riddle of the Dinosaur

By John Noble Wilford,

Book cover of The Riddle of the Dinosaur

Why this book?

We can be a bit precious about all this. But it is important to keep in mind that we have not always known as much as we do now about the history of life on earth. Wilford gives us a very readable account of the practical history of palaeontology - the people involved, the excitement of the discoveries, the anecdotes of the expeditions, the thought processes that went into the interpretations . . . And how the public have percieved the various discoveries throughout history.


The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions

By David Quammen,

Book cover of The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions

Why this book?

Not many can manage the task of mastering a complicated subject and turn it into life—which means storytelling—as good as David Quammen. In his books he writes long passages on scientific discourses that sometimes come close to textbooks. But I enjoy reading them, because I learn so much and because he alternates these sections with (often very funny) stories. Stories of people that shape their scientific field, which reads like a good novel. Like in “The song of the Dodo”—a portrait of the scientific field of “Island Biogeography,” which explains why animal and plant species are where they are and why they become extinct when their habitat becomes too small.


The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene

By Simon L. Lewis, Mark A. Maslin,

Book cover of The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene

Why this book?

I can find it overwhelming to think how large and bad the environmental crisis really is. Record temperatures, species extinction, fires and storms. In many ways, this book hammers home the scale – but it does so productively. It’s been an excellent companion for me in learning more about the problem. It’s written by two of the world’s top scientists who have led the way in helping us see this as an environmental crisis, not just a problem of climate change or species loss, but an overall destabilization of the natural world. This is often missed from the mainstream discussion and Lewis and Maslin offer a whole range of approaches that can help you make sense of what we can do in response. 


Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution

By Steve Jenkins,

Book cover of Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution

Why this book?

A step more sophisticated than the picture books above, Life on Earth is targeted to children ages 9 to 12. The eye-catching format and succinct text cover the diversity of life on Earth, major evolutionary transitions, and nicely illustrates the process of natural selection through a succession of illustrations of frogs as the fittest individuals are selected by their environment. Engaging and packed with information.


Dinosaurs Love Underpants

By Claire Freedman, Ben Cort (illustrator),

Book cover of Dinosaurs Love Underpants

Why this book?

This book is just right for the child who loves Dinosaurs and/or mysteries!

It has hilarious images of Dinosaurs and Humans and is another book with rhyming verse. It aims to answer the age-old question about Dinosaurs and what actually caused them to become extinct. 

It's a brilliant book, so funny and has its own solution to the great mystery of the disappearance of the Dinosaurs...