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.
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