Fashion week may be over, but these books are timeless.
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Archibald, J. David. Extinction and radiation: how the fall of dinosaurs led to the rise of mammals. Johns Hopkins, 2011. 108p ISBN 9780801898051, $65.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE July 2011
The mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous about 66 million years ago is arguably one of the most significant events in Earth’s history. If nonavian dinosaurs had not gone extinct, then people would not be reading or writing about this event, as Stephen J. Gould often noted. In the ten million years after the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K/T) boundary, there was a rapid radiation of mammals into the many forms known today. These two topics, both the extinction of nonavian dinosaurs and subsequent radiation of mammals, are the focus of this fascinating book. Archibald (San Diego State), an expert on fossil mammals from the Cretaceous and early Tertiary, addresses both the patterns and causes of extinction at the K/T boundary. He argues against the single-cause extraterrestrial impact hypothesis, instead favoring multiple causes, including impact, volcanism, and sea level and climate change. The book includes six chapters that cover the fossil record of nonavian dinosaurs, Mesozoic mammals, and eutherian (placental) mammals; patterns and causes of extinction at the K/T boundary; and the origin and radiation of modern mammals after the extinction event. The illustrations are mostly black-and-white drawings, which vary widely in quality. Extensive notes supplement the text. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through professionals in paleontology. —E. J. Sargis, Yale University
Biological extinction: new perspectives, ed. by Partha Dasgupta, Peter H. Raven, and Anna L. McIvor. Cambridge, 2019. 442p bibl index ISBN 9781108482288, $105.00; ISBN 9781108711814 pbk, $34.99; ISBN 9781108668675 ebook, $28.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE April 2020
Earth’s biosphere comprises a mosaic of ecosystems, and humans have enjoyed a long and complicated relationship with their environments. This coedited volume is among the first to consider the economics and social science of biodiversity loss. The text is derived primarily from papers presented at a 2017 workshop, also called Biological Extinction, convened jointly by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. Over two dozen contributors, representing technical experts from the natural, physical, and social sciences, address the current understanding on the state of biodiversity and the socioecological mechanisms that lead to its loss. The diverse collection of essays includes discussions ranging from biodiversity and global change, extinction threats, societal collapses, and the green revolution to the drivers of biological extinction; consequences of biodiversity loss to human well-being; and how to stem biodiversity loss. In addition, two contributions focusing on smart villages and smart cities discuss policies that could help reduce humankind’s collective unsustainable demand for ecosystem goods and services. This volume provides an informative reference for policy makers and practitioners, offering new perspectives on biological extinction that adopt principles of social justice and sustainability. Summing Up: Recommended. Graduate students through faculty and professionals. —R. A. Delgado Jr., National Science Foundation
Fiction and the sixth mass extinction: narrative in an era of loss, ed. by Jonathan Elmore with Michael Fuchs et al. Lexington Books, 2020. 178p bibl ISBN 9781793619198, $90.00; ISBN 9781793619204 ebook, $85.50.
Reviewed in CHOICE December 2020
Released in the “Ecocritical Theory and Practice” series (begun in 2007), this groundbreaking collection offers a thoughtful exploration of 20th- and 21st-century fiction and its treatment of mass extinction, with all its complex issues. Known to have occurred at least five times in Earth’s geologic past, mass extinction is defined as “a significant reduction in the number of individual organisms inhabiting the planet and at the same time a significant reduction in the diversity of species made up by those organisms” (p. 4). The introduction provides valuable background on the origins of environmental extinction fiction in the 1880s and its growth since the 1970s into the genres of climate fiction (popularly known as cli-fi) and extinction studies. The eight essays examine works by major American, British, and French writers, including Thomas Pynchon, H. P. Lovecraft, Jeff Vandermeer, Louise Erdrich, Eric Chevillard, China Mieville, Robert J. Sawyer, Michael Crichton (in the Jurassic Park novels), and N. K. Jemisin (in The Broken Earth trilogy). This book has much to add to the discussion of the role of storytelling in shaping the dialogue of climate change, and the challenges the book addresses offer avenues for future research in philosophy, spirituality, and politics. Though focused on literature, the book will be valuable in all disciplines. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. —R. B. Ridinger, Northern Illinois University
Fletcher, Amy Lynn. Mendel’s ark: biotechnology and the future of extinction. Springer, 2014. 99p bibl afp ISBN 9789401791205, $139.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE April 2015
As genomic technology has advanced, more and more pressure is being placed on science to address problems associated with species extinction. This book looks at the impacts of modern molecular techniques on biodiversity and extinction. Fletcher (Univ. of Canterbury, New Zealand) includes discussions of the politics and history of extinction, “bio-inventories” such as DNA bar coding, and “bio-interventions” such as cloning. She also addresses the cloning of recently extinct organisms (“de-extinction”) and the role that societal concerns play in decisions regarding extinction. All discussions are couched in the context of policy development and issues related to wicked problems (problems with no easy political answer). Ultimately, the book analyzes the world’s ever-increasing reliance on technology to solve environmental problems and the disruptive effects this technology can have on science as a profession, especially when attempting to build dialogue and consensus among key stakeholders in the extinction realm. The information presented is clear and concise, providing relevant examples for the issues at hand. However, the use of technical jargon and scientific terminology makes this book more appropriate for advanced students. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above in biology, ecology, and biodiversity. —K. R. Thompson, Ozarks Technical Community College
Guterl, Fred. The fate of the species: why the human race may cause its own extinction and how we can stop it. Bloomsbury, 2012. 209p ISBN 9781608192588, $25.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE January 2013
Guterl, a longtime science writer for Newsweek and currently executive editor of Scientific American, states that this is a book about monsters “that we have created with our technology and our dominance of the planet.” The authoritatively composed and duly referenced work is designed to make readers think and worry about a variety of devastating “what ifs,” e.g., what if the H1N1 virus were to become as virulent as in the 1918 flu pandemic? The author provides a detailed description of the devastating nine-year drought in Australia that resulted in a 99 percent drop in rice production, which may remind readers of the wheat and corn crop failures due to drought in the US Midwest in 2012. In scenario after scenario, the author indicates the diabolical effects of disruption related to such events as the monsoons in India and Africa or the potential devastation of the human population by biological weapons. He also discusses other concerns, including disruptions of electrical grids like the blackout of 2003 in the northeastern US and unbridled population growth. The author concludes that the most vexing problem of all, however, is climate change. A thought-provoking book for a wide audience. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers, all levels of students, and researchers/faculty. —E. J. Kormondy, University of Hawaii at Hilo
Harrison, K. David. When languages die: the extinction of the world’s languages and the erosion of human knowledge. Oxford, 2007. 292p ISBN 0195181921, $29.95; ISBN 9780195181920, $29.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE September 2007
During the past few years more and more linguists have called attention to the disappearance of indigenous languages, but no one has made a more elegant or memorable case for recording them than Harrison (Swarthmore College) does. A veteran field linguist who has worked with endangered languages in remote areas around the globe, notably southern Siberia, the author writes in a style more typical of a good travelogue than of a linguistic survey. By introducing words and structural features from dozens of the most geographically and typologically diverse languages imaginable, he vividly portrays the incredible richness of what is being lost. These include rare patterns that illuminate the human language ability or preserve a record of prehistoric migrations, taxonomies that capture local facets of nature still poorly understood by modern science, unique storytelling and mapping traditions, and unusual systems of counting or calendar reckoning. The reader of this book embarks on a trip through uncharted linguistic space to gain a sense of why languages are disappearing at such an unprecedented rate and what linguists are doing about it. This thoughtful, fascinating, and eminently readable assessment of the worldwide crisis of vanishing indigenous languages and cultures is a must. Summing Up: Essential. All readers; all levels. —E. J. Vajda, Western Washington University
O’Connor, M. R. Resurrection science: conservation, de-extinction and the precarious future of wild things. St. Martin’s, 2015. 266p bibl index ISBN 9781137279293, $25.99; ISBN 9781466879324 ebook, $12.99.
Reviewed in CHOICE March 2016
The passage of the US Endangered Species Preservation Act in 1966 paved the way for many ambitious conservation efforts. Earlier efforts at protecting endangered species involved setting up conservation areas and enacting hunting laws that prevented further loss of these organisms. More aggressive efforts included relocation projects and breeding programs. The growth of genetic technologies has provided conservationists with the tools to genetically modify and clone endangered species; these technologies have even offered the potential to de-evolve organisms by cloning the remnant DNA from extinct species. Resurrection Science presents a critical analysis of the later strategies used to preserve endangered species. O’Connor (a reporter) uses actual case studies to show the pros and cons of preservation methods that use selective breeding and genetic technologies. Each case study includes interviews with scientists involved with the projects. The author does a wonderful job explaining the rationale and the science behind each preservation effort. She also provides unbiased, accurate assessments of each strategy. In addition, the book presents compelling arguments related to the long-term complications of and ethical consideration for the undertakings. The author does not condemn the efforts; rather, she views them as learning experiences that could ultimately lead to sustainable ways of preserving wildlife. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels. —B. R. Shmaefsky, Lone Star College – Kingwood
Sepkoski, David. Catastrophic thinking: extinction and the value of diversity. Chicago, 2020. 360p index ISBN 9780226348612, $35.00; ISBN 9780226354613 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE May 2021
A historian of science, Sepkoski (Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) here explores a wide variety of factors—evolutionary science, philosophy, the Cold War fear of nuclear catastrophe, even apocalyptic fiction and movies—to explain how the currently understood urgency to protect the world’s biological and cultural diversity emerged. Science after Darwin, followed by the dismal events of the 20th century, has made humans better able to believe in the possibility of mass extinction and ecological collapse. Though learning this has been slow and incremental, this knowledge has now reached the general public and even some politicians. At the same time, people must recognize that the “sixth mass extinction” is already underway. The author does not quite agree with the concept of a “good Anthropocene,” but he ends on a note of optimism: the better that humans understand they are the asteroid and the dinosaur, the more likely the impact of environmental degradation can be mitigated. Though Seposki’s exploration of the concept of bioculturalism neglects the contributions of ecofeminists and eco-anarchists, and of non-Western thinkers and activists, it is still a solid introduction to one of the most critical issues of today. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; professionals. —T. S. Martin, emeritus, Sinclair College
Shapiro, Beth. How to clone a mammoth: the science of de-extinction. Princeton, 2015. 220p index afp ISBN 9780691157054, $24.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE September 2015
This book is an excellent introduction to the emergent science of de-extinction. Shapiro (ecology and evolutionary biology, Univ. of California, Santa Cruz) is a gifted writer who makes a complex subject accessible to readers with little science acumen. She explains conservation genetics in lay terms, using interpretable graphics and integrating case studies and personal experiences as a way of telling readers a story. This is not a highly technical volume designed for advanced students or practitioners interested in step-by-step techniques; rather, it is a superbly written overview of a controversial conservation discipline. Throughout, the author explains enough of the science for biologists to grasp the techniques and understand the limitations and potential. The beauty of this work is in its honesty: Shapiro, who is invested in this science as a practitioner, does not attempt to woo the masses. She takes the ethical concerns head on, not as an advocate but as an honest broker. This book is appropriate for undergraduate biology as well as graduate courses and seminars in environmental ethics, human dimensions, and conservation genetics or for a reading seminar. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and graduate students; general readers. —J. Organ, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Sweet, Timothy. Extinction and the human: four American encounters. Pennsylvania, 2021. 190p bibl index ISBN 9780812253429, $37.50; ISBN 9780812298055 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE June 2022
The scope of this volume is considerably broader than its classification by the Library of Congress (which deemed it a critical study of American literature) indicates. Also author of American Georgics: Economy and Environment in Early American Literature (CH, Jun’02, 39-5694), Sweet (West Virginia Univ.) analyzes how North American culture has dealt with the concept of extinction from Native American myths through the early 20th century. In his introduction, Sweet offers a wide-ranging, sometimes lyrical analysis of the significance of extinction studies of the Anthropocene. He then provides a series of case studies, beginning with indigenous people’s legends of an extinguished race of giants—a subject early clergymen, including Cotton Mather, later took up. Sweet also offers analyses of the culture’s response to the extinction of mammoths and the near-extinction of whales and bison. This volume is meticulously researched and steeped in contemporary theory but will attract some general readers because of its compelling subject matter. This fascinating, important book is a vital contribution to the developing field of extinction studies within the environmental humanities. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. —R. D. Morrison, Morehead State University
Fashion week may be over, but these books are timeless.
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Why do earthquakes happen and how might people respond? From expert knowledge to appropriate action is no easy path.
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Given the present challenges of the fluctuating US economy, these books explore key economic terms, past financial hardships, and possible solutions.
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As the volcanic eruption continues to ease, enjoy these 8 reviews on Hawaii.
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