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A noted naturalist's fascinating inquiry into the life and death of animal species
Just about every species that has ever lived on earth is extinct. The trilobites, which dominated the ocean floors for 300 million years, are gone. The last of the dinosaurs was wiped out by a Mount Everest-sized meteorite that slammed into the earth 65 million years ago. The great flying reptiles are gone, and so are the marine reptiles, some of them larger than a humpback whale. Before humans crossed the Bering land bridge some 15,000 years ago, North America was populated by mastodons, mammoths, saber-toothed tigers, and cave bears. They too are MIA. Passenger pigeons once flew over North America in flocks that numbered in the billions; the last one died in 1914.
In this book you will meet creatures that were driven to extinction even more recently, as well as some that were brought back from the brink. You will even encounter animals not known to exist until recently -- an antidote to extinction.
In his latest book, multitalented marine naturalist Ellis (Imagining Atlantis; The Empty Ocean) broadens his attention from life in the oceans to an examination of the process of animal extinction. Readers will be tantalized by brief descriptions of many odd species--some extinct, many endangered. They will learn about the 50-foot-long megatooth shark; the 10-foot-tall duck known as Bullockornis, or "the demon duck of doom"; and the tiny leaf deer of southeast Asia, so named "because it was small enough to wrap its body in a single large leaf". Ellis condenses a century of research and postulation into one comprehensive volume of extinction; additionally, he discusses recently discovered species ("The Anti-Extinctions") and offers future extinction-prevention techniques ("Rescuing Animals from Oblivion"). Even with much compelling material, however, the book is not wholly successful. Although Ellis presents some fascinating theories (among them, he casts doubt on Christianity's placement of "humans confidently perched on the top rung" of the animal ladder), the text as a whole fails to develop a focused message, and lacks the intrigue necessary to sustain reader interest throughout. While certainly a home run on information, this volume proves only a single on entertainment. 70 line drawings.
- ISBN: 9780060558031