In this vast sweep of our Earth’s history, Michael Benton brings the deep past to life as never before. Deploying the cutting-edge tools in biology, chemistry, physics and geology that are transforming our understanding of previous environmental cataclysms – including the incredible new discovery of a hitherto unknown extinction event – he uncovers not only their lethal effects but also the processes that brought about such large-scale destruction.
Beginning with the oldest extinction, Benton investigates the Late Ordovician, which set the evolution of the first animals on an entirely new course; the late Devonian, brought on by global warming; the cataclysmic End-Permian, which wiped out over 90 per cent of all life on Earth; and, book-ending the age of the dinosaurs, the newly discovered Carnian Pluvial Event and the End-Cretaceous asteroid. He examines how global warming, acid rain, ocean acidification, erupting volcanoes and meteorite impact have affected conditions on Earth, the drastic consequences for global ecology, and how life in turn survived, adapted and evolved.
This expert retelling of scientific breakthroughs allows us to link long-ago upheavals to our modern crises. As today’s climate scientists and political leaders grapple to understand these processes and our planet enters the sixth great extinction, these insights from the past may hold the key to survival.