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The End: Natural Disasters, Manmade Catastrophes, and the Future of Human Survival Hardcover – November 25, 2008


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Without discounting the very real impact of climate change, de Villiers (Windswept) steps back from global warming brinkmanship to suggest that, in fact, we've been living in a little bubble of stability in a great sea of chaotic change and that cataclysm is the universe's normal condition. He casts back billions of years to report that mass extinctions have at times wiped out 96% of all species living in the seas, the world has cycled through several monumental ice ages, collisions with comets and asteroids have altered life on Earth (in 1996 a three-quarter-mile-long asteroid passed within four hours of our planet) and land-shattering earthquakes have a transformed continents. More recently in known history, massive volcanic explosions have dramatically influenced global temperatures and human life half a dozen times, most recently Krakatoa in 1883 and Pinatobu in 1991, and notes that noxious gases, mammoth tsunamis, great floods, vile winds, tropical cyclones and tornadoes, plagues and pandemics continue to threaten human survival. De Villiers's conclusion, contrarian and more controversial than calming, is that despite the fight against global warming, the planet is always changing, and so must we. (Jan.)
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From Booklist

In this narrative survey of catastrophes to which humanity is vulnerable, science writer de Villiers ranges from threats that have existed since the creation of the earth up to those impacting the activities of civilization. The coauthor of such popular natural histories as Sahara (2002) and Sable Island (2004), de Villiers thematically contrasts the resilience of life on scales of geologic time with the apocalyptic anxieties of people and their much shorter sense of time and urgency. After an introductory sampling of end-of-the-world literature, de Villiers assumes a history-of-science mode as he discusses the increase in knowledge about natural cosmic perils such as radiation or asteroids; hazards intrinsic to the earth, such as seismic events or violent weather; and climatic changes attributable to the sun or earth’s orbit and extinction episodes associated with them. Replete with references to recent popular science works in these areas, such as Ernest Zebrowski’s Perils of a Restless Planet (1997), readers of the like will be impressed by de Villiers’ presentation and prognosis of how humanity might survive the inevitable. --Gilbert Taylor
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; 1st edition (November 25, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312365691
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312365691
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,968,294 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover
"The Lord gave Noah the rainbow sign. No more water, the fire next time."

There's a lot of interesting information here marred, as others have noted, by some very distracted editing. De Villiers got a lot of the numbers confused, but his depiction of the dangers our planet faces from the forces of nature within, on, and beyond the earth is right on. Combining a historical perspective with analysis and extrapolation to the future, de Villiers makes it clear that within the lifetime of most people living today, the earth will suffer some horrendous catastrophe. So stay tuned.

De Villiers begins with "Doomsday as a State of Mind" (Chapter One, Part One). He mentions ancient myths (most cultures have a flood story), the "Left Behind" Rapture of some fundamentalist Christians, the "doomsday clock" of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the pronouncements of Royal Astronomer Sir Martin Rees (see my review of "Our Final Hour: A Scientist's Warning: How Terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind's Future in This Century" at Amazon), the intriguing Bayes's theorem-based "Doomsday Argument" (see pages 16-17), etc., making it clear that "The end of the world is always nigh." (p 10).

He didn't mention Chicken Little, but I will. The sky really is falling, or something is falling out the sky or will, and the earth will open up and swallow people and things and/or shake us senseless, or the earth will belch and fill the sky with soot and ash, darkening the planet into a long winter not seen since the days of the dinosaurs, and/or a rock the size of Manhattan will smack into the planet with the force of a few million atomic bombs, etc. The really scary thing about all this is IT WILL HAPPEN.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Brian H. Fiedler on July 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book was originally published by Viking Canada as "Dangerous World". It was then published in the United States as "The End", with all metric units of measurement converted to US customary units, but with some errors. I glanced at "The End" at a public library, and happened to notice an outrageous claim about the 1816 Tambora eruption. I suspected there was error in the conversion of units for the US edition. I procured a used copy of the Canadian "Dangerous World", and was able to make the following comparison:

Canadian "Dangerous World", page 154:

"The noise was heard more than 1,500 kilometers away, and about 150 cubic kilometers of rock was hurled into the sky, reducing the height of the mountain itself by 1,280 meters".

"The annual temperatures recorded at Yale for 1816 showed temperatures a full 7 degrees Celsius below the norm."

US "The End", page 154:

"The noise was heard more than 900 miles away, and about 36 cubic miles of rock was hurled into the sky, reducing the height of the mountain itself by 4,200 feet."

"The annual temperatures recorded at Yale for 1816 showed temperatures 44.6 degrees Fahrenheit below the norm".

The first sentence is translated correctly. In the second sentence, though 7 degrees Celsius is 44.6 degrees Fahrenheit, 7 degrees Celsius below the norm is 12.6 degrees Fahrenheit below the norm. A similar error appears on page 156.

The table on page 110 has some severe errors. The Canadian edition correctly cites NASA data (metric) for current impact risks from comets and asteroids. But the table in the US edition lists, for example, that a diameter of 140 meters is 87 miles!

There may be more errors in "The End", but I am not going to read it.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By M. Crandall on October 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I've actually enjoyed reading this book, which makes it a shame that I must give it a rather dismal review. Aside from the errors already noted by other reviewers, I would add the following.

1) The diameter of the Earth is not 24 miles.
2) Marc Antony was not one of the conspirators who assassinated Julius Caesar.
3) The River that burned in Cleveland, Ohio was the Cuyahoga, not the Cayuga.
4) The topic of whether a Benevolent God is compatible with our understanding of the universe either deserves a chapter by itself, or else should be left unmentioned.

The book is an interesting compilation of facts about a variety of threats to the earth and its inhabitants. But the multiple errors in the text work to undermine trust in the author, without which the book loses its affect.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful By An_Occasional_Reviewer on December 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is my area of professional focus and I find the book nice enough to read, but middle of the road in terms of insight and analysis. It is for the most part a synthesis of others' work. That can be a good thing, but there are problems.

I agree with the other reviewer that gave it one star because of the huge problems converting from metric to US/English units. It makes for some outlandish claims that many may not know are wrong.

There is also borderline plagiarism from at least one other source. Page 300 quotes extensively from an article in Nature. The first part is appropriately quoted, but the following text continues to barely re-write the original author's text, as pasted below.

Original article:
"Catastrophes are not average; they are the great exceptions....It is the fact that they are rare and exceptional that makes it very hard to plan for natural disasters. Problems that crop up less than once a generation -- even, in some cases, less than once a millennium -- are easily overlooked. Experts can anticipate some natural disasters, but their predictions and assessments often count for little compared with the pressures of population and development, which increase the number of people in harm's way."

Villiers uncited re-write in the book: (page 276 of hardback)
"That disasters are rare, the great exceptions, makes planning for them difficult. It is easy to overlook something that might happen only once in a generation, and sometimes less frequently than that. Historical memories are short, particularly in the face of population and development pressures."
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