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Evolutionary Catastrophes


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Table of Contents

Foreword Claude Allege; Preface; Preface to the English translation; 1. Mass extinctions; 2. An asteroid impact; 3. From the roof of the world to the Deccan traps; 4. The volcanic scenario; 5. Plumes and hotspots; 6. A remarkable correlation; 7. Nemesis or Shiva?; 8. Chicxulub; 9. Controversy and coincidence; 10. Improbable catastrophes and the flukes of evolution; Index.

Promotional Information

Mass extinction and cataclysmic volcanic activity: will fascinate everyone interested in the history of life and death on our planet.

About the Author

Vincent Courtillot is Professor of Geophysics at the University of Paris, heads a research group at Institut de Physique du Globe and is special advisor to the French Ministry of National Education, Research and Technology.


Originally published in France in 1995, this slim volume by a professor of geology at the University of Paris attempts to explain the causes of mass extinctions that have occurred over the past 300 million years. Courtillot does a superb job of presenting evidence for and against the two most likely factors: collisions of large asteroids with the earth and extensive volcanic activity. Although the popular belief is that asteroids are responsible, Courtillot argues persuasively that all available data are more consistent with the volcanic theory. Indeed, seven of the world's mass extinctions occurred when volcanic activity was at its peak, while only one, the extinction that took place 65 million years ago and wiped out the dinosaurs, among many other species, appears to have coincided with the impact of a major asteroid. Courtillot also discusses the personalities of some of the leading figures on both sides of the debate, as well as the nature of science. The book is fairly technical, however, so its appeal to a general readership may be limited. Illustrations. (July) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

'... a beautifully written little book that, once picked up, is impossible to put down.' Geoscientist ' ... watch this space and read this book.' Bob White, New Scientist 'The book is very readable and provides a clear and concise picture for anyone interested in the subject. The text is well written and supported by clear footnotes where necessary and a comprehensive glossary ... [I] recommend this book for those at any stage in their studies or knowledge. It is written for a general audience but should not be missed by professionals.' Mike Hermolle, Open University Geological Society Journal '[Vincent Coutillot] has done a superb job! A balanced and fair treatment of a complex of information, misinformation, and perhaps even disinformation. Although written for a general audience, this book should be obligatory reading for all professionals involved in the controversies surrounding the causes of mass extinction. Even the most committed will find their outlook broadened.' David M. Raup, Formerly Professor of Paleontology, University of Chicago, and author of Extinction, Bad Genes or Bad Luck? (Norton, 1991) Praise for the original French edition: 'A real scientific thriller ... Vincent Courtillot brilliantly presents the stormy genesis of an original, unifying theory on the origin of the great biological extinctions which have marked the history of the earth.' Pascal Tassy, La Recherche Praise for the original French edition: '... a vividly written book which ... clarifies many points that have been shrouded in darkness up until now'. French Edition of Scientific American Praise for the original French edition: '... a science book and an adventure book'. Ciel et Espace Praise for the original French edition: 'To be read by all paleontology, geology and ecology enthusiasts.' Sciences et Avenir 'Courtillot makes an excellent case for other mass extinctions being almost certainly related to cataclysmic volcanism. A well-written and well-reasoned book, essential for any library.' M. A. Wilson, Choice 'It is rare to find a first-rate geoscientist who can write a first-rate popular book on science, but Professor Courtillot is one such ... a lively exposition of the idea that mantle processes cause major stress to ecosystems. It is beautifully written ... The pace is fast, but the data well explained and authoritatively considered ... Anyone with an interest in mass extinctions or in the episodic and catastrophic nature of teh Earth's internal processes should rush out and read this book. It is a rewarding experience.' Dr Susan Rigby, University of Edinburgh ' ... well-argued taste of the debate for the general reader.' Nature 'The description of how the conclusions were reached and confronted with views of the extraterrestrial party is vivid and instructive to non-geophysicists (I am among them).' Journal of Sedimentary Research 'Read and enjoy this book ... It represents a pleasantly argued counterpoint to the rather shrill and abrasively dismissive 'impacticist' views.' David Norman, Times Higher Education Supplement '... covers the topic brilliantly. You can easily read Evolutionary Catastrophes in one weekend, particularly because uou will not want to put it down.' Willis Hames, Auburn University

"Science is not a democracy, and there is no room for political compromise," writes Frankel in reference to the raging debate over what caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. In one camp are the catastrophists, led by the discoveries of Walter and Louis Alvarez, who believe that a meteor impact was the cause; in the opposite corner, led by Courtillot (geophysics, Univ. of Paris), are the gradualists, who believe that dinosaur extinction was caused by long periods of intense volcanism. Walter Alvarez has already published a popular firsthand account of his own research (T. Rex and the Crater of Doom, LJ 6/15/97), and now Courtillot's popularized defense of the volcano extinction theory, first published in French in 1995, has been translated into English. Both of these books are fairly well written and appropriate for high school readers; the combination of the two will give junior scientists a good opportunity to consider and evaluate the evidence and arguments on both sides of the debate. On the side of the catastrophists (and most U.S. scientists are), Frankel, who is a planetary geologist and therefore more interested in meteors than dinosaurs, offers an excellent history of the research, as well as speculation on how to stop another large meteorite from striking Earth and causing the extinction of human beings. For all public libraries.ÄAmy Brunvand, Univ. of Utah Lib., Salt Lake City Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

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