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Extinction
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Table of Contents

Part 1 Almost all species are extinct: is extinction important? bad genes or bad luck? the nature of extinction; who studies extinction? a word about the word; species defined; the purpose of extinction, if any. Part 2 A brief history of life: origin of life; complex life; the quality of the fossil record; 600 million years of fussing; a stock market analogy; trilobite eyes; tropical reefs; flying reptiles; human evolution; living fossils. Part 3 Gambler's ruin and other problems: gambling; concepts of randomness; gambling for survival; differing extinction and speciation rates; skewed histograms; other models; a note on extinction of surnames. Part 4 Mass extinctions: the K-T mass extinction; measuring extinction; a note on killing; duration of mass extinctions; do mass extinctions differ from background; the kill curve. Part 5 Selectivity of extinction: Ice Age Blitzkrieg; selectivity of the Blitzkrieg; body size and the K-T extinction; other examples of bias; other examples of selectivity; the Trilobites' bad genes; some implications; summary. Part 6 The search for causes: the rarity of extinction; just so stories; beware of anthropomorphism!; the kill curve revisited. Part 7 Biological causes of extinction: are species and ecosystems fragile? the case of the heath hen; importance of the first strike; problems of small populations; competition; species-area effects; species-area and past extinctions; the great American interchange; the history of tropical rain forests. Part 8 Physical causes of extinction: traditional favourites; sea level and climate; species-area effects; testing sea level and climate; the Pleistocene experience; exotic physical causes; unheard-of volcanism; cosmic causes. Part 9 Rocks falling out of the sky: cratering rates; destructive power; Alvarez and the K-T extinction; periodicity of extinction and nemesis. Part 10 Could all the extinctions be caused by meteorite impact? plausibility arguments; arguments from observation; extinctions are linked to craters; extinctions are not linked to craters; assessment. Part 11 Perspectives on extinction: how to become extinct; wanton extinction; the role of extinction in evolution; bad genes or bad luck?; a note on extinctions today. Epilogue: did we choose a safe planet?.

About the Author

David M. Raup is the Sewell Avery Distinguished Service Professor and a statistical paleontologist at the University of Chicago. Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) was the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and Professor of Geology at Harvard University. He published over twenty books, received the National Book and National Book Critics Circle Awards, and a MacArthur Fellowship.

Reviews

Raup takes up a cocktail-party science topic--Why do entire branches of life ``suddenly'' (in geologic time) disappear?--and gives it weight and validity. Despite the catchy title, Raup's presentation is plenty rigorous, drawing in just enough geology, anthropology, biostatistics and yes, even the Alvarez meteor/earth cataclysm, to send readers looking for additional reading on current evolutionary theory. Fans of Stephen Jay Gould will find a similarly fluent and friendly lecture style here. University of Chicago professor Raup is coauthor of several standard graduate-level texts on paleontology and evolution. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Sept . )

"An eminently entertaining and informative read." -- Malcolm W. Browne - New York Times Book Review
"A delightful little book about life on this planet and about extinctions, in particular. It is as much about the philosophy and methodology of science as about the downside of evolution." -- Clark R. Chapman, Planetary Science Institute

Scientists have directed a good deal of attention to the topic of extinction in recent years. In this book, Raup, a mathematically oriented paleontologist, discusses the role of extinction in evolution, attempting to differentiate the effects of natural selection (``bad genes'') and extraterrestrial causes (``bad luck''). It is a nicely done work written for the layperson, much in the vein of his previous book, The Nemesis Affair ( LJ 8/86), which covers some of the same territory and which also favors extraterrestrial causes. This book should serve as a complement to the relatively few other recent works on extinction for the nonspecialist, notably Steven M. Stanley's Extinction (Scientific American Lib., 1987), which offers an alternative viewpoint.--Joseph Hannibal, Cleveland Museum of Natural History

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