Extinctions: How Life Survives, Adapts and Evolves

Michael J Benton
Thames & Hudson, £25.00

This is a brilliant account by a world-leading professor of palaeontology of the 4.5-billion-year history of the Earth stretching through to the Oligocene and the present day. The focus is on the various extinction events that have changed the biodiversity of the planet.

In the current situation of global warming, acid rain, ocean acidification and erupting volcanoes, more events could happen, so it is a salutary lesson for us to learn from extinctions of the past.

There are 28 excellent plates, mainly in colour, and some very good diagrams. The narrative is extremely clear on what is a gripping story. This is perhaps not surprising from someone who has written more than 50 books with the same publisher, and gives TED talks and YouTube presentations.

Highly complementary to the current BBC television series Earth, narrated by Chris Packham, it is made clear that biology, chemistry and physics are crucial to our understanding of environmental cataclysms.

My only possible quibble as a microbiologist is that it gives very little attention to the parts played by bacteria and algae in evolution, which can be evidenced from their chemical marker analysis in ancient sediments. However, that information is available elsewhere and it should not detract from this excellent account, which is complemented by a useful bibliography for each chapter.

Professor Jim Lynch OBE FRSB