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Evolutionary Catastrophes: The Science of Mass Extinction

Popular Science

By: Vincent Courtillot(Author), Claude Allège(Foreword By)

173 pages, 4 b/w photos, b/w illustrations, maps

Cambridge University Press

Paperback | Mar 2002 | #127864 | ISBN: 0521891183
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £25.99 $34/€29 approx
Hardback | Aug 1999 | #89712 | ISBN: 0521583926
Out of Print Details

About this book

Why did the dinosaurs and two-thirds of all living species vanish from the face of the Earth sixty-five million years ago? Throughout the history of life a small number of catastrophic events have caused mass extinction, and changed the path of evolution forever. Two main theories have emerged to account for these dramatic events: asteroid impact, and massive volcanic eruptions, both leading to nuclear-like winter. In recent years, the impact hypothesis has gained precedence, but Vincent Courtillot suggests that cataclysmic volcanic activity can be linked not only to the K-T mass extinction, but to most of the main mass extinction events in the history of the earth. Courtillot's book, first published in 1999, debunks some of the myths surrounding one of the most controversial arguments in science. This story will fascinate everyone interested in the history of life and death on our planet.

"[...] a beautifully written little book that, once picked up, is impossible to put down."
- Geoscientist

"[...] watch this space and read this book."
- Bob White, New Scientist

"The book is very readable and provides a clear and concise picture for anyone interested in the subject. The text is well written and supported by clear footnotes where necessary and a comprehensive glossary [...] [I] recommend this book for those at any stage in their studies or knowledge. It is written for a general audience but should not be missed by professionals."
- Mike Hermolle, Open University Geological Society Journal

"[Vincent Coutillot] has done a superb job! A balanced and fair treatment of a complex of information, misinformation, and perhaps even disinformation. Although written for a general audience, this book should be obligatory reading for all professionals involved in the controversies surrounding the causes of mass extinction. Even the most committed will find their outlook broadened."
- David M. Raup, Formerly Professor of Paleontology, University of Chicago, and author of Extinction, Bad Genes or Bad Luck? (1991)

"Courtillot makes an excellent case for other mass extinctions being almost certainly related to cataclysmic volcanism. A well-written and well-reasoned book, essential for any library."
- M. A. Wilson, Choice

"The description of how the conclusions were reached and confronted with views of the extraterrestrial party is vivid and instructive to non-geophysicists (I am among them)."
- Journal of Sedimentary Research

"Read and enjoy this book [...] It represents a pleasantly argued counterpoint to the rather shrill and abrasively dismissive 'impacticist' views."
- David Norman, Times Higher Education Supplement

"[...] covers the topic brilliantly. You can easily read Evolutionary Catastrophes in one weekend, particularly because you will not want to put it down."
- Willis Hames, Auburn University

"[...] well-argued taste of the debate for the general reader."
- Nature

"[...] professionals [...] will read it with the same pleasure as non-specialists."
- Zentralblatt fur Geologie und Palaontologie


Praise for the original French edition

"A real scientific thriller [...] Vincent Courtillot brilliantly presents the stormy genesis of an original, unifying theory on the origin of the great biological extinctions which have marked the history of the earth."
- Pascal Tassy, La Recherche

"[...] a vividly written book which [...] clarifies many points that have been shrouded in darkness up until now"
- French Edition of Scientific American

"[...] a science book and an adventure book"
- Ciel et Espace

"To be read by all paleontology, geology and ecology enthusiasts."
- Sciences et Avenir


Foreword Claude Allège
Preface to the English translation

1. Mass extinctions
2. An asteroid impact
3. From the roof of the world to the Deccan traps
4. The volcanic scenario
5. Plumes and hotspots
6. A remarkable correlation
7. Nemesis or Shiva?
8. Chicxulub
9. Controversy and coincidence
10. Improbable catastrophes and the flukes of evolution


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Vincent Courtillot is Professor of Geophysics at the University of Paris, heads a research group at Institut de Physique du Globe and is special advisor to the French Ministry of National Education, Research and Technology.

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