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No Turning Back: The Life and Death of Animal Species Hardcover – August 10, 2004


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (August 10, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060558032
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060558031
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,737,417 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In No Turning Back, Richard Ellis makes a survey of animals that have disappeared through anthropogenic or other means. "Everybody knows what extinction is," he writes, but theories of why it happens are hampered by "the inability of biologists and paleontologists to agree on exactly what a species is." Still, Ellis manages to pick perfect examples to show how extinctions happen in the natural world, and how humans unnecessarily contribute to some of them. It's hard to look at the careful illustrations of long-gone animals such as the Irish elk, Steller's sea cow, quagga, or even the dodo, without feeling that the world would be better with some of them around. Ellis also introduces little-known species currently close to extinction, such as the spot-tailed quoll, the bilby, and the saiga, to add to the list of well-known threatened animals such as the white rhinocerous or the orangutan. Ending on an optimistic note, Ellis tells how some animals have been brought back from the brink of extinction through hard work, careful conservation, and lots of money. A master of the shocking ecological fact, and a thoroughly accessible and engaging narrator of the natural world, Ellis has succeeded in explaining extinction and its causes by showing readers what there was to love about creatures long gone. --Therese Littleton

From Publishers Weekly

In his latest book, multitalented marine naturalist Ellis (Imagining Atlantis; The Empty Ocean) broadens his attention from life in the oceans to an examination of the process of animal extinction. Readers will be tantalized by brief descriptions of many odd species—some extinct, many endangered. They will learn about the 50-foot-long megatooth shark; the 10-foot-tall duck known as Bullockornis, or "the demon duck of doom"; and the tiny leaf deer of southeast Asia, so named "because it was small enough to wrap its body in a single large leaf." Ellis condenses a century of research and postulation into one comprehensive volume of extinction; additionally, he discusses recently discovered species ("The Anti-Extinctions") and offers future extinction-prevention techniques ("Rescuing Animals from Oblivion"). Even with much compelling material, however, the book is not wholly successful. Although Ellis presents some fascinating theories (among them, he casts doubt on Christianity's placement of "humans confidently perched on the top rung" of the animal ladder), the text as a whole fails to develop a focused message, and lacks the intrigue necessary to sustain reader interest throughout. While certainly a home run on information, this volume proves only a single on entertainment. 70 line drawings.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Russell Finley on January 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover
"No Turning Back" is a hybrid of several other books on the subject that I have read: "Extinction-Evolution and the end of man" by Michael Boulter, "The Sixth Extinction" by Richard Leakey, and "Song of the Dodo" by David Quammen. Interestingly enough, the blurbs on the back cover are for other books written by Ellis, not this one. His thirteen or so previous books all dealt with sea life.

Ellis is an excellent writer. This book is well-researched and full of interesting facts. You would think that I would know a thing or two about extinction judging from the books I have read on the subject but I learned a lot from this one. For example, hyperdisease is a disease capable of wiping out an entire species. Irrevocable evidence of just such a disease has been found in the most recent bones of Mastodons. It is assumed by the timing of the epidemic to have been spread by people and their dogs. We may be witnessing the same thing with the frogs of the world. I do not want to give too much of the book away, but you can count on seeing lots of good tidbits like this.

Anything a lay person would want to know about the topic of extinction in general is covered. He also talks about species that have been brought back from the brink, the probability of resurrecting extinct species, and new species that have been discovered. If you do not already know much about extinction, this book will be fascinating.

Personally, I am less interested in ancient extinction events than in finding solutions to halt the one currently in progress. Ellis finishes his book with the standard ominous suggestion that humanity may be positioning itself for extinction. This warning bell has been ringing out since 1962 when Rachel Carson wrote "Silent Spring.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By K Roth on March 14, 2011
Format: Paperback
The book intends to be a broad compendium of extinction, beginning with prehistoric mass extinctions, then going forward in time to its main emphasis on man-made extinctions. The book can really be separated into parts I and II, which report and speculate on prehistoric extinction theories, and part III ("Finale") which accounts for 2/3 of the book and is a fairly haphazard menagerie of extinct or critically endangered species. The entire book skips around a lot, most evidently in Part III, which makes it difficult to follow. It is as if the author summarized all the articles he had in his file cabinet - the files simply being "mammals" or "oceans."

The book is an interesting, if winding, road through various "fun facts" of extinction. That said, the author misses the mark on some of his arguments - most notably his speculations about the Pleistocene mass extinctions. Despite correlating these extinctions with human migrations, he insists that most Pleistocene megafauna were killed by "hyperdisease," This, despite the author's inclusion that "no disease known to science is capable of killing off an entire species," let alone several - all of which happen to be large and very huntable.

The book also displays a shocking number of taxonomic errors. Most striking is the glaring misunderstanding of what a subspecies is - inexcusable for a biological author. Species and subspecies are confused routinely. Sentences such as "There are three distinct species and one subspecies" are understood by biologists to be patently wrong. Within the same bewildering paragraph, the author describes two forms of tigers, followed by a sentence describing eight subspecies, five of which are living.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Seachranaiche on June 30, 2006
Format: Paperback
In "No Turning Back", Richard Ellis conjures these emotions for the sole remaining members of species soon to be extinct, such as the last passenger pigeon or the last Carolina parakeet, which finished out their lives in zoos. It is not the animals themselves who feel the lonely demise of their DNA, their unique genetic make-up, their strings of molecules that are never to be known on the Earth again--Ellis does not anthropomorphize, the animals have no idea that they represent the last of their kind--but humans who have viewed the last of these species and have known that this is it; there will be no more. There is the odd case here and there when a migrating species has been reduced to such a low number that the few remaining individuals--still engaging in their migratory behavior--return to breeding grounds to find that they are all alone. They carry on, though, back and forth through their migratory cycle until they die of natural causes or other events. These few survivors cannot know that they are the last of their kind, but they must know deep in their genes that something is terribly wrong.

It is all very sad, and such a waste.

Ellis spends a great deal of the book discussing recent man-caused extinctions. This testimony is the most disturbing, especially when modern extinction events are dwarfing those massive extinction events that occurred deep in geologic time, extinctions that may have been caused by astronomical events or geologic upheavals; that humans are capable of such destruction. It is all very sobering. Too often, a dying species is known to be on the brink, even by the least educated among us, yet the killing goes on against tigers and elephants and rhinoceros and apes...
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