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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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