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Rivers in Time Paperback – August 15, 2002

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Editorial Reviews


The pace of species extinction provoked by human rapacity may well now equal the rate of loss in the great mass extinction events that punctuate the history of life. We need a broad perspective on this most portentous of all ecological and evolutionary disasters--and who better than a paleontologist to provide it. Peter Ward ranks with the very best in this most fascinating profession, and his book should be read by all thinking and caring people.

(Stephen Jay Gould)

[One of] the science books every self-taught genius should have read this year.


Rivers in Time is rich in information and ideas... masterfully portrays for nonpaleontologists how data are collected from the fossil record and then used to test various concepts. The section on the modern mass extinction is superb, and it should concern us all... Highly recommended.

(M.A. Wilson Choice)


The current extinction of species at the hand of Man--a crime that posterity will regard as more pernicious than the burning of the library of Alexandria--is investigated by Peter Ward with rare perception and depth of feeling.

(Timothy Ferris, author ofThe Whole Shebang)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; Rev Upd edition (August 15, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231118635
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231118637
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 5.7 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,597,498 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Roger McEvilly (the guilty bystander) on January 26, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I really like Peter Ward's books. He presently serves as my 'geological advisor', as I also am a geologist. He is not as dogmatic as some within the field of mass extinction, since he recognises it is now becoming increasingly obvious that in most mass extinctions, these ancient 'killers' did not act alone. Early arguments in the debate of mass extinction, especially the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K/T) event, were in the form of either/or, (eg volcanism versus asteroid/comet impact), rather than one big event following and/or combining with another.
The old argument "one or the other" is now often questioned on the basis of statistics itself. You could just as well turn this logic around-if it so happened, that once in a proverbial blue moon in geological time (which is really long) TWO OR MORE events occurred at roughly the same time-wouldn't this produce a really big mass extinction??. Maybe to exterminate a large number of species against the backdrop of reasonable resistance of life to widespread extinction, more than one major event has to occur. This sort of scenario is supported, for example, by the many impact craters which have been dated and which have produce no mass extinctions. This is the general view espoused by this book.
The arguments over statistics is not irrelevant here. Researchers have indeed found that what may appear to be gradual decline in the geological record can be sudden, and vice versa, simply due to such an overlooked thing, for example, as 'sampling' error. For big animals such as dinosaurs it is particularly problematic, because sampling bias occurs in level of exposure, type of rock and degree of preservation for what is already a rarely preserved animal. The geological record is baised in what it tends to preserve, and what it tends to not show.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Duwayne Anderson on November 25, 2004
Format: Paperback
I've read one other book by Peter D. Ward, "The call of distant mammoths," and enjoyed it immensely, so when I saw "Rivers in time," and recognized the author's name I snatched it up right away.

The first part of this book contains condensed excerpts from earth's history, with particular emphasis on the famous and most notable extinction events found in the strata. This is preceded, and sometimes interspersed, with a brief history of geology and paleontology. Ward covers highlights relating to methods of dating sedimentary rocks using fossils, and how those techniques are anchored in radiometric dating.

Ward introduces some particularly insightful information derived from some of his own field work. This adds a nice touch, and helps the reader understand a little of the flavor associated with being a field geologist. Chapter five for example, describes some work he did along the Pacific Coast of Canada, relating to the mass extinction at the end of the Triassic period - one of the five most catastrophic extinctions during the last 500 million years.

The Triassic, Permian, Cretaceous. Ward touches on them all, at least to some extent. Part III is about the Cretaceous/Tertiary event, when the dinosaurs went extinct. Here, as in other discussions, the text isn't just about the mechanics of extinction, but draws upon many ancillary issues that add depth and flavor to the discussion. Particularly interesting is his historical discussion of the scientific debate that led to the currently accepted view that a large comet or meteorite was a major (if not the major) contributor to the Cretaceous/Tertiary event. This part of the book contains interesting tidbits of information that many arm-chair scientists will, no doubt, enjoy.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Atheen on March 13, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I found myself greatly of mixed feelings as I read Ward's Rivers in Time. It seemed as though he was having difficulty identifying the audience to whom he wished to direct himself--or with a desire to appeal to everyone There are threads of autobiographical "adventure" narrative, geological/paleontological field description, extinction theory--including the tried and true KT boundary extinction of the dinosaurs--a discussion of the quaternary extinction of the North American megafauna, a discussion of the Hawaiian Island biota and its extinction, and an appeal to world conscience to prevent what the author perceives as a current biological crisis.
I might see the autobiographical information as appealing to a young male reader's sense of adventure, except that I suspect there is not nearly enough of the suspense element or the do or die component. There is much build up in places, but it often leads to a feeling of anticlimax. The gentleman has definitely been a lot of interesting places, which is enviable perhaps, but I'm not sure that the majority of his readers would really relish the sometimes stultifying dullness of the environments in which the author has spent considerable time doing mind numbing work. The apparent glamour of finding fossils often obscures the painstaking labor it takes to locate and excavate them.
The descriptive passages seem to suggest a disappointed novelist. They might have been more enjoyable if they had not been in a first person format. For those who can "identify" with the heroes of fictional works when they're written in first person, this volume might be an excellent choice.
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