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Science Books

March 2, 2006

Extinction: How Life on Earth Nearly Ended 250 Million Years Ago
Douglas H. Erwin (2006)
ISBN: 0691005249

While the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago may be familiar to most people, the far greater cataclysmic event that wiped out around 95 percent of all living species on Earth 250 million years ago is less well known. Plausible explanations of what caused the Permian extinction abound - enormous volcanic eruptions, changes in ocean levels and chemistry, or the impact of a colossal asteroid - but none of them definitively explain the mystery behind the mass annihilation. Douglas H. Erwin, Senior Scientist in the Department of Paleobiology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, commenced his own exploration into this mass extinction back in 1980. Erwin's devotion to researching one of Earth's biggest mysteries has earned him the respect of his peers and the title of leading authority in his field of paleontology. His extensive research into this cataclysm, culminating in this fascinating book, has taken him to all corners of the globe. There are a plethora of factors to consider when piecing together an event so far back in the Earth's history, not least of which being coincidental causations that can beguile even the greatest of scientific minds toward a wrong conclusion. Like Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, Erwin accumulates and examines all available evidence and arrives at his own logical explanation for the momentous 250 million year old event. Erwin clearly explains how he goes about engaging with the current evidence in order to proceed to a process of elimination, which proves to be a revealing insight into the methodological procedures undertaken by paleontologists. Despite his rigorous reassessment of the available evidence, has Erwin really found a definitive answer to this age-old mystery, or is his explanation just one more possibility among many? Read the book and find out!

The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth
Tim Flannery (2006)
ISBN: 0871139359

The idea that human activities are behind global warming is one that is slowly gaining widespread acceptance; the only problem is that the message might have arrived too late. While some dispute the claim that events such as hurricane Katrina or an unforgiving European summer are signs of global warming, others consider these to be indicators of our environment edging precariously closer to an abyss. A mounting body of scientific research bolsters these fears even further; with many of them stating that the negative effects of human activity on climate will be tangibly experienced this century. Despite this gloomy outlook, Tim Flannery, paleontologist extraordinaire and firebrand conservationist, presents a glimmer of hope by offering some advice to help avert, or possibly prevent, what he believes will be the otherwise inevitable cataclysmic events of the future. Flannery begins with an extensive and unexpectedly accessible history of global climate change, which also makes for a surprisingly enthralling read. Changing tack, Flannery then outlines a scary future where, amongst other disasters, most marine life has disappeared. Flannery has no doubt as to the causes of global warming, or where the blame should lie: corporations and the lickspittle politicians that pander to their every whim. To save the planet, Flannery proposes a holistic solution that delegates the task of rescuing our Earth's future onto lawmakers, politicians and the all-important, individual citizen. Probably the most entertaining, thorough and accessible account of where life on Earth is headed should we decide to continue to live the way we currently do.

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