Death by fire, ice, poison gas, suffocation, asteroid. At five moments through history life on Earth was dragged to the very edge of extinction.
Now, armed with revolutionary technology, scientists are uncovering clues about what caused these catastrophes. Deep-diving into past worlds of dragonflies the size of seagulls and fishes with guillotines for mouths, they explore how – against all the odds – life survived and what these ominous chapters can tell us about our future.
'His evocative prose brings the “incomprehensible eternities” of ancient history vividly alive…A remarkable journey into the deep past that has much to teach us about the future of our planet.'
‘Gripping… Brannen excels at evoking lost worlds.’
– The New Yorker
– The Economist
‘A book about one apocalypse – much less five – could have been a daunting read, were it not for the wit, lyricism, and clarity that Peter Brannen brings to every page. He is a storyteller at the height of his powers, and he has found a story worth telling.’
– Ed Yong, author of I Contain Multitudes
‘An exciting detective story venturing into the extraordinary worlds of our Earth’s past to discover what caused them to end. Brannen describes unimaginable floods, planet-scale catastrophes and incredible creatures that were once common. A cautionary tale for the future of our human age.’
– Gaia Vince, author of Adventures in the Anthropocene
‘[Brannen] is a companionable guide, as good at breathing life into the fossilized prose of scientific papers as he is at conjuring the Ordovician reign of the nautiloids.’
– New York Times Book Review
‘Urgent, compelling and beautifully written, Peter Brannen brings immense geological timescales sharply into focus, forcing us to reflect on humanity’s brief but potent impact on the planet through the lens of deep time. Whether through fascination with the ancient past or grim fear for our future, The Ends of the Worlds is essential reading.’
– Kat Arney, science writer and broadcaster
‘If readers have time for only one book on the subject, this wonderfully written, well-balanced, and intricately researched (though not too dense) selection is the one to choose.’
– Library Journal, starred review
‘A vivid, fascinating story about all the past and future lives of our planet. Peter Brannen has the knack of opening up new worlds under our feet.’
– Michael Pye, author of The Edge of the World
‘History repeats itself, the first time as a tragedy, the second as farce. Human history, that is. But the history of life on planet Earth only ever repeats as tragedy, as Peter Brannen explains in this powerful and unsettling book. The Ends of the World recounts the breath-taking stories of the five mass extinctions that have punctuated and diverted the course of evolution. Its vertiginous sense of the awful fragility of living things will never leave you, not least because humanity may now be writing the ultimate end of Brannen’s riveting tale.’
– Stephen Curry, professor of structural biology, Imperial College
‘Want to know the future? Look to the past, the deep past. That’s one of the many insights you’ll glean from reading Brannen’s entertaining, engaging, elegant book.’
– David Biello, author of The Unnatural World
– Geographical Magazine
‘Much-needed as a cautionary lesson and a hopeful demonstration of how life on Earth keeps rebounding from destruction.’
'A simultaneously enlightening and cautionary tale of the deep history of our planet and the possible future, when conscious life may become extinct…. Entertaining and informative on the geological record and the researchers who study it. [Brannen] provides a useful addition to the popular literature on climate change.'
– Kirkus Reviews
‘Robert Frost only gave us two options to end the world: fire or ice. Peter Brannen informs us in this fun rollick through deep history that there are so many more interesting ways to go.’
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