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

Share this story...

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to Twitter

Geographical Week

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

Subscribe Today


Aberystwyth UniversityUniversity of GreenwichThe University of Winchester




Travel the Unknown


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

  • 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...
    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 ...
    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...
    REDD+ or Dead?
    The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme, under which developing nations would be paid not to cut dow...


NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

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 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)


Get 30% off the cover price of this in-depth journey…


Twenty one years, sixteen countries, seven continents... RGS-IBG director, Rita…


by Peter Millar • Arcadia Books • £20 (hardback)


by the National Archives • £25/£21.99 (hardback/eBook)


by Leon McCarron • IB Tauris • £17.99 (hardback)


by Alex de Wall • Polity Books • £16.99 (paperback)


by Jacki Hill-Murphy • Adventuress Publishing • £9.99 (paperback)


An emotional and divisive documentary that explores the trophy hunting…


by Paul Murton • Birlinn • £14.99 (softback)


by Harry Hook • HIP Editions • £54 (hardback)


by James Suzman • Bloomsbury • £18.99 (hardback)


by Thorkild Hansen • New York Review Books • £11.99…