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Future Evolution Hardcover – November, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-0716734963 ISBN-10: 0716734966 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Ward (geologic sciences, zoology, paleontology, Univ. of Washington, Seattle; The Call of Distant Mammoths) counters the majority of scientists who predict the extinction of our species as the price for the harm we've inflicted on our environment and on species worldwide. The future he forecasts is more chilling; Ward states unequivocally that humans are virtually "extinction-proof" owing to their ability to alter environmental conditions and insulate themselves from adverse conditions that affect every other species. Describing mass extinction as the primary catalyst for evolutionary change throughout our planet's history, the author makes a compelling case that we are well into the extinction phase of the Age of Megamammals and that future evolution will be seriously hampered by the lack of species diversity. He also foresees humankind's evolving alongside machines, in company with genetically altered plants that will infest the world as weeds and cloned animal species devoid of any evolutionary spark. Written in accessible prose by an expert in extinction theory with 37 color illustrations by top science illustrator Rockman, this book is highly recommended for its unique viewpoint and synthesis of scientific data. For public and academic libraries. Gloria Maxwell, Penn Valley Community Coll., Kansas City, MO
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

To know where you are going, it helps to know where you have been. So evolutionary prophet Ward explains the two earlier mass extinctions before positing that the present era is the end of a third mass extinction; he then forecasts recovery from it and imagines the end of earthly life. The first great die-off, 250 million years ago, was the largest, and after it no anatomically discrete new group of animals arose. Life recovered, and dinosaurs flourished, only to be terminated 65 million years ago. Life recovered again, and large mammals evolved until the end of the Ice Age, when they began failing in a nearly concluded extinction event. The future belongs to humans, domestic animals, and species, mostly birds and small mammals, that successfully coexist with humans. If humans die out--and Ward says no single catastrophe could bring this about--maybe an age of birds will develop. More likely, people will last to the bitter end, living underground to avoid a superheated atmosphere, unless off-planet colonization becomes a reality. Lively scientific prognostication that is appositely, amusingly illustrated, too. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: W. H. Freeman; 1 edition (November 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0716734966
  • ISBN-13: 978-0716734963
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.8 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #996,130 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Patrick M. Marchman on January 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover
A welcome addition to a far-too-neglected genre - alternative evolution - the author provides great background information, as well as a sobering evaluation of the state of the world's ecology today.
The odd thing about this book is that one of the major premises of "Future Evolution" is that humans will not become extinct, and that there will be no radiation of existing, smaller species to fill old niches and create new ones, as they did after the extinction of the dinosaurs, the end of the Permian, and several smaller extinctions. Fair enough - but the illustrations in the book seem to go completely against Ward's thesis. The alternative trees of life created by Rockman have no place in Ward's vision of the future. I saw the original exhibit at the Henry (at UW) a while back, and the tone of the background information was completely different. Someone really should have noticed this in editing.
My major criticism, however, is in with Ward's vision of the future. Ward in his introduction notes the consensus that humanity will become extinct, and asks whether it is more of an ideological bias than a valid point. But as the time frame goes into the future, Ward's own bias becomes stronger and stronger. He offers no convincing reason that humanity will inevitably survive a billion years, other than faith. He offers no reason why humans would not themselves speciate or exploit technology to become different, and assumes that it is impossible to go anywhere in space and live there, even in our own solar system. Again, no reasons given. He offers no reason why small animals who survive the current extinction would not evolve in similar manner as they always have before - even mentioning that mammals have high rates of evolutionary change.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is almost as much of an art book as it is a book on evolution. The images, photos of about 30 paintings by Alexis Rockman, mostly oil and acrylic on wood or watercolor and ink on paper, are stunning depictions of creatures, past, present and to come: an arsinotherium (a rhino-like animal), a thylacine (a doglike marsupial, extinct in 1936), huge dandelions with thick roots several feet long, rabbits and rats on hind legs like kangaroo, crows like vultures, snakes with wings, etc. The text by geologist Peter Ward is sprightly, informed, very readable, and at times even moving, as when Ward recalls his return to New Caledonia after twenty-five years.
Ward's vision, however, is not pretty. He is not looking at planet earth after humans have gone extinct as some other books on future evolution have done. He sees us as surviving for another 500 million years so that the fauna and flora that do evolve will do so with humans as probably the most significant part of their environment. Consequently there will not be any large mammals, and the most numerous creatures will be small and "weedy." They will be mostly nocturnal animals that have learned to tolerate humans, rats and insects and "escapes" from our farms and genetic engineering labs.
Ward is very good at producing striking word portraits. One is the "brown mountain" he observed flying into Mexico City (the polluted air rising above the city), and another is his fanciful creatures of the future, the "Zeppeliniods," who have learned how to create hydrogen-filled air sacks so they can float in the air. In a particularly dystopian vision on pages 135-137, Ward's time traveler visits a garbage dump 10-million years in the future crawling with "cockroach-sized insects...
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Crocker on February 13, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Danger awaits those who declare the existence of patterns based on paltry data, but I feel like living dangerously. I think I have discovered a relationship between the study of mollusks and the writing of great nonfiction on evolution. Exhibit A: Stephen J. Gould studies gastropods [snails for the layperson, or, as we called them in college, ghastly-pods] and writes books on evolution from the highest peak of the adaptive landscape of evolution writers. Exhibit B: Peter Ward studies living and fossil shelled cephalopods [relatives of squids and octopi] and writes books on evolution that have a mother-of-pearl beauty and a filling of tasty meat. Future Evolution is not the book that I'd recommend to first time Ward readers; in my opinion, first timers should start with Time Machines [1998] or Rivers in Time [2000, an updated version of The End Of Evolution (1994)]. But readers of books on evolution should make it a point to put Future Evolution [and Rare Earth (2000, co-written with D. Brownlee)] on their reading list.
Future Evolution is a beautiful book visually, making the hardback a must and worth the price. Paintings by Alexis Rockman compliment and illuminate the text by Ward. Future Evolution is a thought provoking book. Even though the book is grounded in our extensive knowledge of evolution and mass extinctions, any book about the future must extrapolate from the data of the past and this is dangerous in the historical sciences. Future Evolution is not a cheery book. Folks who want to hear that humans will save the Earth from themselves [or that humans will go extinct and leave the Earth to continue happily without us] wiil probably not be supportive of many of Ward's conclusions. For readers who want to THINK about evolution, Future Evolution is a must.
I highly recommend Future Evolution to any reader of good books on science and especially to people interested in evolution, mass extinctions, conservation, and the future of life on the Earth.
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