Rivers in Time. this man thinks it's all over for us!


Quantum Scribe
Rivers in Time. this man thinks it\'s all over for us!

He Thinks it's All Over 17 Feb 01

Rivers in Time by Peter Ward, Columbia University Press, $29.95, ISBN 0231118627

IS THE Earth going through a mass-extinction event? Peter Ward from the University of Washington thinks so, and sets out to make sense of the present by unravelling the past. In Rivers in Time, Ward looks back at three mass extinctions that have shaken the living world, before trying to make sense of a possible modern extinction event. Catastrophism is in vogue again.

Although the blurb on the back cover carefully conceals the fact, Ward plays a straight bat in the preface when he admits that the book is really an updated edition of his 1992 publication The End of Evolution. He then gets on with the admirable job of conveying the geological evidence for mass extinctions, clearly and concisely.

Ward's writing style is mostly easy to read: I felt as though I was taking part in a conversation, rather than listening to a lecture. But I was disappointed by the scanty, bullet-pointed list of thoughts with which he ends the book, in which he looks at what may be in store for us in the near future. Ward's contentious message appears to be one of complacency. No matter what happens to the rest of the animal kingdom, he says, we human beings are "at the pinnacle of biodiversity" and therefore "extinction-proof".

Stuart Clark is director of public astronomy education at the University of Hertfordshire

From New Scientist magazine, vol 169 issue 2278, 17/02/2001, page 53