Our directory of things of interest

THE ENDS OF THE WORLD: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans and our Quest to Understand Earth's Past Mass Extinctions

  • Written by  Jon Wright
  • Published in Books
THE ENDS OF THE WORLD: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans and our Quest to Understand Earth's Past Mass Extinctions
08 Dec
by Peter Brannen • Polity Books • £16.99

Whatever their faults, dinosaurs have enjoyed good PR over the years, with the result that their extinction has overshadowed a number of similar Armageddon-type events – four, to be precise, occurring at staggered intervals over a mind-bendingly long period. One – the late Devonian – took between 20 and 25 million years to play out; further evidence, if it were required, that the story of planet Earth is not the story of homo sapiens.

While less special-effects driven than the extra-terrestrial impact that did for the dinosaurs, what all these apocalypses have in common is ‘violent changes to the planet’s carbon cycle’. In fact, says Peter Brannen, carbon dioxide-driven global warming ‘is an experiment that the Earth has already run many times in the deep past’ with results that it’s worth taking note of.

As he assesses the various theories behind these different events, it becomes clear that life has always involved a race between extinction and speciation; if new species can evolve faster than extinction rates, then life wins. That aside, experts disagree on much of the ground at stake. It’s long been somewhat disreputable, in scientific circles, to think in terms of sudden, eye-blink events: it smacks of Biblical destruction. It was not until 1980, then, when the link was made between a strike by a six-mile-wide asteroid and the death of the dinosaurs that the notion gained respectability, and while the strike that Brannen describes is now largely accepted – an impact so massive (100 million megatons), and so instantaneous, that there are ‘probably little bits of dinosaur bone up on the moon’ – dissenting voices remain.

Some of these can be readily ignored (depressingly, he notes, the Creation Museum, with its ‘dioramas of tyrannosaurs boarding Noah’s Ark’, is flourishing); for a fascinating overview of the others, read his book.

Click here to purchase The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans and our Quest to Understand the Earth's Past Mass Extinctions on Amazon

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe Today

Adventure Canada


Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester




Travel the Unknown


Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    Mexico City: boom town
    Twenty years ago, Mexico City was considered the ultimate urban disaster. But, recent political and economic reforms have transformed it into a hub of...


NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in REVIEWS...


by Kristy Leissle • Polity Press • £14.99 (paperback)


by Christopher Somerville  •  Black Swan Publishing  •  £9.99 (paperback)


by Doug Scott  •  Vertebrate Publishing  •  £20 (hardback)


by Ursula Martin  •  Honno Press  •  £12.99 (paperback)


by Navid Kermani  •  Polity Books  •  £17.99 (paperback)


by Julian Sayarer • Arcadia Books • £9.99 (hardback)


by Robin Hanbury-Tenison • IB Tauris • £17.99 (hardback)


by Daniel Schwartz •  Thames & Hudson •  £40 (hardback)


by Nigel Hughes • £25 (hardback)


by Caitlin Doughty • Weidenfeld & Nicolson • £14.99/£7.99 (hardback/eBook)


directed by Ivo Van Hove •  National Theatre


by Norman Davies • Allen Lane • £30 (hardback)


This intimate east London exhibition provides a multi-sensory exploration into…


by Kiyonori Kanasaka (translated by Nicholas Pertwee) • Renaissance Books…


by Steven Price Brown • Bloomsbury • £16.99 (hardback/eBook)


by Jo Woolf • Sandstone Press • £24.99 (hardback)


An epic journey through the Amazon in a traditional dugout…


by Victor Mallet • Oxford University Press • £20 (hardback/eBook)