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Extinction: Evolution and the End of Man Hardcover – March 4, 2002


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate Ltd (March 4, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841156957
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841156958
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 6.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,981,696 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

'Mike Boulter's book explores new ways of looking at extinctions - extinctions of the geological past and of the present day. He is a pioneer and shows how new methods allow us to understand major crises of the past and how they relate to the current problems. This is a whirlwind of a book.' Michael Benton, Professor of Vertebrate Palaeontology, Univeristy of Bristol

Review

Michael Boulter's book explores new ways of looking at extinctions -- extinctions of the geological past and of the present day. He is a pioneer and shows how new methods allow us to understand major crises of the past and how they relate to the current problems. This is a whirlwind of a book.

(Michael J. Benton, author of Walking with Dinosaurs: Fascinating Facts) --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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This book reads like a great draft from a subject matter expert BEFORE a good editor/sub-editor has done their job.
Historied
Because whatever happens, the earth will survive, and something else will happen or evolve on it... and I really wonder what.
A.P.
My problem with this book is that it is sometimes hard to follow Boulter's argument since he is not as direct as he might be.
Dennis Littrell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 30, 2003
Format: Hardcover
While I think that paleobiologist Michael Boulter is certainly correct in his assertion that we are going to go extinct, as all creatures eventually do, I don't think we will go the way of the mammoth or the giant sloth or the Neanderthal. Our exit may very well be totally unique. We may go the way of the dinosaur, of course, our world obliterated by a cosmic catastrophe, or we may blow ourselves up, and then watch the survivors die out in the ruins. But more likely we will pass away quietly as our culture transforms us from what we are now to creatures that are partly the result of genetic engineering and partly the result of mechanical ingenuity, until one day we may notice that we are so different from the humans of the past as to be an entirely different species.
But Boulter is not concerned here with cultural evolution. He is looking at the biological evolution of life on earth primarily through the fossil record and in particular through Fossil Record 2, a huge database that he has studied extensively. His theme, despite the book's title, is the diversity of life, the radiation of living groups, etc., and how an understanding of that diversity through an analysis of the fossil record can shed light on the evolutionary process. He analyzes the growth of life's diversity after the major catastrophic events in the earth's history and plots curves and comes to the conclusion that biodiversity is an example of exponential growth, and that the phenomenon of evolution is another example of a self-organized system (such as sand piles and the weather) driven by "power laws and pink noise." (p. 125)
Some of the interesting conclusions that Boulter comes to along the way to forecasting our extinction is that we probably did do in the Neanderthal.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A.P. on May 16, 2006
Format: Paperback
Contrarily to the publisher's description, this book is not an alarmist and chilling vision of the end of the human race (also, the p. has it wrong: the extinction event that took place 65 millions years ago is perfectly explained - the meteor; it's the one that dates back to 245 millions years ago whose cause is unclear.)

In this book, Boulter touches upon the increasing complexity of the world (a big object hitting the earth started it all, by crooking the planet's axe... and therefore giving us seasons). He also explain the patterns of evolution and extinction one can deduce from the study of fossils (and help our understanding by, among other things, explaining with lifelike descriptions how one would feel in such a warm world with lots of CO2 as the earth was back then). He then presents the different theories of evolution from Darwin to Gould's Punctuated equilibrium and to the theory he favors : power law in a self-organized system.

A self-organized system is like a pile of sand whose shifting grains within the structure causes lots of small avalanche and a few big ones. The earth is a self-organized systems like these piles of sand and throughout history, avalanches (most caused by internal changes and some by external changes) causes species to disappears or adjust. Even in the best of case, a specie cannot lasts forever; its pattern of rapid evolution and diversification and slow extinction follows the spindle curve of a power law, unless there is an external intervention. Humans are just such an external intervention, and not a recent one either. Since the beginning of human history, we could not help but change the dynamics of the worlds around us, from big-games hunts to Industrialization.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Alan Koslowski on February 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Paleobiolgist Boulter utilizes several academic disciplines to discuss the history and causes of mass extinction events. He uses such events as the basis for his argument that the natural systems controlling the earth are in a constant state of balance and equalibrium. Humans, particularly since the dawn of industrial societies are effecting the natural system earth to such an extent that the planet must respond. The natural system will adjust itself to maintain this equalibrium.
The scope of Boulter's book is impressive. He combines numerous scientific fields and principles (paleobiology, geology, ecology, physics, biology and evolution, computer modeling, and chaos theory just to name a few) to created an integrated, mostly coherent scientific treatise. Using this integrated approach, Boulter describes in detail all previous mass extinction events. He explains that planet earth is a complex, self-stabilizing natural system, and mass-extinctions are one of the ways the system maintains equalibrium. Despite the scope of his suject, Boulter manages to make his argument concisely (about 220 pages).
After explaining how the system functions for the first 2/3 of "Extinction", Boulter takes the natural step of discussing how the system will respond to human activities. He focuses on the last century since significant human disruption began with the industrial revolution in the early 1900s. He explains how human activities related to pollution and climate change are becoming progressively more disruptive, and explains how he thinks earth will respond. Ultimately, the system will maintain it's equalibrium, regardless of how the individual components are effected (or destroyed).
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