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Several times in the distant past, catastrophic extinctions have swept the Earth, causing more than half of all species – from single-celled organisms to awe-inspiring behemoths – to suddenly vanish and be replaced by new life forms. Today the rich diversity of life on the Earth is again in grave danger – and the cause is not a sudden cataclysmic event but rather humankind's devastation of the environment. Is life on our planet teetering on the brink of another mass extinction? In this absorbing new book, acclaimed paleontologist Peter D. Ward answers this daunting question with a resounding yes.
Elaborating on and updating Ward's previous work, The End of Evolution, Rivers in Time delves into his newest discoveries. Rivers in Time presents the gripping tale of the author's investigations into the history of life and death on Earth through a series of expeditions that have brought him ever closer to the truth about mass extinctions, past and future. First describing the three previous mass extinctions – those marking the transition from the Permian to the Triassic periods 245 million years ago, the Triassic to the Jurassic 200 million years ago, and the Cretaceous to the Tertiary 65 million years ago – Ward assesses the present devastation in which countless species are coming to the end of their evolution at the hand of that wandering, potentially destructive force called Homo sapiens.
Rivers in Time takes readers to the Philippine Sea, now eerily empty of life, where only a few decades of catching fish by using dynamite have resulted in eviscerated coral reefs – and a dramatic reduction in the marine life the region can support. Ward travels to Canada's Queen Charlotte Islands to investigate the extinctions that mark the boundary between the Triassic and Jurassic periods. He ventures also into the Karoo desert of southern Africa, where some of Earth's earliest land life emerged from the water and stood poised to develop into mammal form, only to be obliterated during the Permian/Triassic extinction.
Rivers in Time provides reason to marvel and mourn, to fear and hope, as it bears stark witness to the urgency of the Earth's present predicament: Ward offers powerful proof that if radical measures are not taken to protect the biodiversity of this planet, much of life as we know it may not survive.
I:The Permian/ Triassic Event
The Cape II
The Great Karoo
End of an Era
II: The Triassic/Jurassic Event
Dawn of the Mesozoic
III: The Cretaceous/Tertiary Mass Event
The Age of Dinosaurs
Death of the Dinosaurs
IV: The Modern Mass Extinction
The End of Evolution, the Future of Evolution
Peter D. Ward is professor of geological sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle. He is the author of many books, including Rare Earth, In Search of Nautilus, The End of Evolution (finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award), and On Methuselah's Trail.
"Rivers in Time is rich in information and ideas [...] masterfully portrays for nonpaleontologists how data are collected from the fossil record and then used to test various concepts. The section on the modern mass extinction is superb, and it should concern us all [...] Highly recommended."
– M.A. Wilson, Choice
"The pace of species extinction provoked by human rapacity may well now equal the rate of loss in the great mass extinction events that punctuate the history of life. We need a broad perspective on this most portentous of all ecological and evolutionary disasters – and who better than a paleontologist to provide it. Peter Ward ranks with the very best in this most fascinating profession, and his book should be read by all thinking and caring people."
– Stephen Jay Gould
"[One of] the science books every self-taught genius should have read this year."
"The current extinction of species at the hand of Man – a crime that posterity will regard as more pernicious than the burning of the library of Alexandria – is investigated by Peter Ward with rare perception and depth of feeling."
– Timothy Ferris, author of The Whole Shebang