A handful of times in our planet’s history, the vast majority of plant and animal life has gone extinct, leaving a desolate and alien earth, devoid of trees, fish, and familiar signs of life. In the more recent past, scientists have pointed to asteroids to explain some of these extinction events. But today, that view is being questioned. More evidence is pointing towards terrestrial causes of our past extinctions, notably climate and ocean change, spurred by the influx of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.
In his book, The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth’s Past Mass Extinctions, Peter Brannan, an award-winning science journalist, pieces together the earth’s five past mass extinctions. Trekking along US highways and digging into rock piles with some of the world’s leading paleontologists and geologists, Brannen searches for the smoking gun behind the events that nearly wiped out life on Earth. From the “sea without fish” 450 million years ago to the relatively recent age of the dinosaurs, Brannen looks at each period of life, its end, how each gave rise to our modern world, and how they may offer clues to our stark future.