Books  General Natural History  Environmental History 

Perilous Planet Earth: Catastrophes and Catastrophism through the Ages

  • Places the scientific debate about natural disasters and evolutionary change within a fascinating historical back-drop
  • Written so as to be accessible to general readers as well as specialists
  • A topical subject area given recent media interest in potential asteroid-Earth impacts in the next 50 years

By: Trevor Palmer(Author)

522 pages, 35 b/w photos, 8 b/w illustrations, 1 table

Cambridge University Press

Paperback | Jun 2010 | #186556 | ISBN-13: 9780521174640
Availability: Usually dispatched within 1-2 weeks Details
NHBS Price: £45.99 $59/€51 approx
Hardback | Jun 2003 | #136739 | ISBN: 0521819288
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £76.99 $99/€85 approx

About this book

Originally published in 2003, Perilous Planet Earth places our concern about the threat to Earth from asteroids and comets within an historical context, looking at the evidence for past events within the geological and historical records. Perilous Planet Earth looks at the way in which prevailing views about modes of global change have changed dramatically over the years. It also considers the way in which catastrophic events are now seen to have influenced the course of evolution in the distant past, as well as the rise and fall of civilisations in more recent times.

Professor Palmer argues that the better we understand our past, the greater the likelihood that we will be able to take appropriate action to preserve our civilisation for the future. Written in an engaging style that avoids jargon, Perilous Planet Earth will appeal to general readers and academics with an interest in evolution, geology, astronomy, social anthropology and history.

"[...] written in a style that is at once dispassionate and engaging [...] Ranging, as it does, over several related disciplines, this book will undoubtedly appeal to both amateurs and academics alike."
- Astronomy & Space

"This is a very thorough, detailed and up to date book [...] It covers many aspects of science from geology, evolution and astronomy through to history and social anthropology [...] For anyone studying the subject this is a 'must have' reference book, it brings many ideas and theories together and then shows you where to go for more information. I don't think there's much it doesn't cover."
- Open University Geological Society Journal

"[...] Palmer manages to steer even-handedly through the opposing territories of catastrophist and gradualist paradigms and, in doing so, illuminates one of the most enduring currents of human thought."
- Times Higher Education Supplement

"A veritable encyclopaedia of disasters that have beset our planet from prehistoric times up to the present, this book is presented in an informative style that demands to be read [...] a cracking read."
- Astronomy Now

"This original and ambitious book will attract several different audiences. [...] The student will find this a detailed, yet friendly volume and will be encouraged by the scope it provides [...] lecturers will be able to use the well-researched histories of the theoretical foundation for these scientific case studies, which are presented in an interesting and up-to-date research context, to coax undergraduates to do some serious thinking about the science they are engaged in. For the general reader, too, the book has plenty to offer [...] Palmer is an erudite and informed guide through the highways and byways into the perils of this planet and our attempts to understand them."
- The Holocene



Part I. Catastrophism: The Story of its Decline and Fall... and Resurrection
Section A. From prehistory to 1899: Catastrophism dominates for centuries, but then gives way to gradualism
1. Mythology, religion and catastrophism
2. Hutton: fact and fiction about the origins of modern gradualism
3. Cuvier and Lamarck: choosing between extinction and evolution
4. Natural theology and Noah's Flood: the high-water mark of catastrophism
5. Catastrophism, uniformitarianism and idealist philosophy
6. Lyell triumphant: gradualism dominates geology
7. Darwin and evolution
8. After the Origin: the triumph of evolutionary gradualism

Section B: From 1900 to 1979: Gradualism reigns supreme
9. Neo-Darwinism: the Modern Synthesis
10. Phyletic gradualism
11. Gradualist perceptions of human evolution
12. Heretical catastrophists
13. Atlantis: rational and irrational theories of a 'lost' civilisation
14. Evolutionary mass extinctions and neocatastrophism
15. Punctuated equilibrium: a new evolutionary perspective
16. Human evolution: gradual or punctuational?

Section C. From 1980 to the present day: Catastrophism strikes back
17. Evolution evolving
18. Into the new millennium: evolution today
19. Chaos in the Solar System
20. Catastrophes on Earth
21. The death of the dinosaurs: iridium and the K-T extinctions
22. The continuing K-T debate
23. Mass extinctions and the course of evolution

Part II. Catastrophes and the History of Life on Earth
24. Extinctions large and small
25. Cyclic processes and mass extinctions
26. The uncertain origins of humankind
27. Ice ages in the Pleistocene epoch
28. Modern views of Atlantis
29. Natural catastrophes and the rise and fall of civilisations
30. Conclusions


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Trevor Palmer was awarded a PhD in 1973 by the University of London, for his research into inherited medical disorders.

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