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Publisher's Summary

Today it is common knowledge that the dinosaurs were wiped out by a meteorite impact 65 million years ago that killed half of all species then living. It is far less widely understood that a much greater catastrophe took place at the end of the Permian period 251 million years ago: at least 90 percent of life on earth was destroyed.

When Life Nearly Died documents not only what happened during this gigantic mass extinction, but also the recent renewal of the idea of catastrophism: the theory that changes in the earth's crust were brought about suddenly in the past by phenomena that cannot be observed today. Was the end-Permian event caused by the impact of a huge meteorite or comet or by prolonged volcanic eruption in Siberia? The evidence has been accumulating, and Michael J. Benton gives his verdict at the end of the volume.

The new edition brings the study of the greatest mass extinction of all time thoroughly up-to-date. In the years since the book was originally published, hundreds of geologists and paleontologists have been investigating all aspects of how life could be driven to the brink of annihilation, and especially how life recovered afterward, providing the foundations of modern ecosystems.

©2003, 2008, 2015 Thames & Hudson Ltd (P)2020 Tantor

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  • Overall
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Very informative!

One of the best book on the subject of mass extinctions available on Audible.
It shows that, mass extinctions, does not have a single cause, but a cascade of sentinel events that has a destructive cumulative effect.
I wish, Audible, offers, Douglas Erwin's book on mass extinctions.
Erwin's book would be a valuable compliment to Benton's excellent book.

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Very little on end Permian extinction

Half way through the book and basically nothing on the end Permian extinction. Lots on the history of geology and other extinctions but nothing on what the title implies. Maybe the second half the author will get around to the actual title subject.

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Obscurity to Enlightenment - A Mystery Revealed

This is quite a fascinating book IF you are into the minutiae of paleontology research. If not, move on to the next book on your Wish List, as this book goes into great detail of the processes that were followed in coming to the point where the reasons behind the End-Permian Extinction became mostly clear and a reasonably accurate timeline for that event was massaged out of obscure details hidden in the geology of Earth. While I'm not generally enthralled by such detailed explanations, I do enjoy peeking behind the curtains to get a glimpse of how people figure out such things as what the climate was like on the planet 250,000 years ago, how researchers know the age of a particular species that's from a particular geological time period, in this case, the Permian Period, how it's possible to get a big picture of an ancient Earth based on layers of rocks from one locale compared to layers of rocks in two or three other locales on the other side of the planet, etc, etc.

The first two chapters were a bit of a slog as the author gives a history of the researchers from the early nineteenth century who laid a foundation for the work that followed in the latter part of the twentieth and first part of the twenty-first centuries. Tedious stuff, but worth the patience required to get through it in the long run. Some time ago I had listened to "T. Rex And The Crater Of Doom" by Walter Alvarez about the process he and his fellow researchers used in uncovering the events which were the cause of the demise of the dinosaurs, the impact of the Chicxulub meteor. That was a great first listen in introducing me to some of the thinking and the processes which go into such work as is detailed in "When Life Nearly Died." This is an interesting book of discovery based on the most subtle of evidence imaginable.

A word about the reader, Julian Elfer. He is incredible. How he manages to effortlessly pronounce these unbelievably tongue twisting names of all these ancient critters and all of their family names and the like, with such clarity is remarkable. He sounds as if paleontology has been his lifelong work. However, it is clear it is not as he is the reader of well over 100 books in the Audible library. That doesn't leave much time for a very time consuming secondary vocation such as geology and paleontology. Also, he didn't miss a beat when quoting Russian paleontologists in their native tongue. This is the first time in all of my time with Audible that I've followed up listening to a book by checking out what other works the reader has available, and I've listened to over 60 books. He's a gem.

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Very Worthwhile - I enjoyed it

I deeply enjoyed this alternating narrative and chronicle of the author's model of the development of the current explanation of the "Big Five" mass extinctions, focusing mostly on The Big Kahuna, #4, the End Permian (?sp) extinction. I found the book to alternate between important but challenging specifics of what appeared when, and wonderful narratives of the author and others visiting (or failing to get permission to visit) far-off, important locations. I particularly liked the otherwise very sad story of a creature who woke up to find he was in the middle of the End Permian. It helped me visualize the details like nothing else in the book. I admit a huge bias toward non-North-American english speakers - I found the narrator's accent constantly delightful. What a pleasure to listen to! I only regret losing 90% of the details - but the lessons I think will stay with me.