Brannen may not be Elizabeth Kolbert, but he provides a useful addition to the popular literature on climate change.

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THE ENDS OF THE WORLD

VOLCANIC APOCALYPSES, LETHAL OCEANS, AND OUR QUEST TO UNDERSTAND EARTH'S PAST MASS EXTINCTIONS

A simultaneously enlightening and cautionary tale of the deep history of our planet and the possible future, when conscious life may become extinct.

“Animal life has been almost entirely wiped out in sudden planet-wide exterminations five times in Earth’s history,” writes Brannen, who notes later, “life on Earth is resilient, but not infinitely so.” An extinction event is defined as “any event in which more than half of the earth’s species go extinct in fewer than a million years.” The author provides an overview of the five major extinction events that have occurred over the last 300 million years, evidence of which are revealed by the fossil record and appear to be correlated with major geological shifts. The most recent event, the extinction of dinosaurs, provides a case in point. The dominant form of life on Earth for more than 200 million years, they were likely felled by two major catastrophes that occurred around 66 million years ago: “the largest asteroid known to have hit any planet in the solar system…hit Earth…[and] one of the largest volcanic eruptions ever smothered parts of India in lava more than 2 miles deep.” Improbably, our planet has survived each of the five major extinctions. Fossils recovered in Ohio give evidence of what appears to have been the first mass extinction, around 450 million years ago, when “a vast tropical sea covered most of present-day North America.” Why this occurred is debatable, but it appears to have been associated with a rapid increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, causing significant global warming. As the author warns, how we prepare for the possibility of a sixth major extinction event may be “existentially, even cosmologically, consequential.” Though not as in-depth on the future possibilities as some readers may want, the book is entertaining and informative on the geological record and the researchers who study it.

Brannen may not be Elizabeth Kolbert, but he provides a useful addition to the popular literature on climate change.

Pub Date: June 13, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-236480-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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