“Extinction is part of the evolutionary process (or perhaps evolution is part of the extinction process),” writes Ellis, who...




A terrible and elegant portrait gallery of lost animal souls, including those about to take the off-ramp to extinction and a few brought back from the edge.

Extinction is as old as time, notes naturalist Ellis (Aquagenesis, 2001, etc.) with his typically smooth, cautious, and illuminating delivery; not all of it can be explained as the work of “Homo destructivus,” though much can be laid at our doorstep, particularly when it comes to recent extinctions. But ancient modes of extinction are far less certain, and the confusion about what might have caused them is exacerbated by the complexity and imprecision of extinction theory. (For instance, what exactly is a species, the most typical taxa used to measure extinction?) Ellis provides an exemplary overview of the debates over extinction’s causes—over-kill, over-chill, over-ill (also known as hyper-disease pathogen)—discovering often enough that the same problems that plagued earlier thinkers continue to dog those at work today. He covers the great macroextinctions, but perhaps microextinctions like those of the aurochs to the dusky sea sparrow are more digestible, occurring at a scale that readers can grasp. Accompanied by Ellis’s fine-line drawings, the text introduces us to creatures on the brink (rhinos, tigers, saiga, chiru, bilby), those that have staged a comeback (the whooping crane, Spix’s macaw), and those that have appeared out of the mists, though believed to be extinct (the coelacanth, the indigo-winged parrot). Of great interest here is the author’s discussion on the role of pathogenic, epizootic diseases like emergent viruses (think Ebola, AIDS, Marburg) that could have been as catastrophic as any giant meteor.

“Extinction is part of the evolutionary process (or perhaps evolution is part of the extinction process),” writes Ellis, who takes the necessary next step by identifying the victims and rounding up some of the perps. (70 line drawings)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-06-055803-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2004

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


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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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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