i-10092cedc7be5d8a5cb3f10bec59f6b5-lifedied.jpgWhen Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time is a book by Michael Benton on the Permian Extinction now out in paperback. From the press release:

Today it is common knowledge that the dinosaurs were wiped out by a meteorite impact sixty-five million years ago, which killed half of all species then living.

Far less well-known is a much bigger catastrophe – the greatest mass extinction of all time – which occurred 251 million years ago, at the end of the Permian period. In this cataclysm, at least ninety per cent of life was destroyed, both on land, including sabre-toothed reptiles and their rhinoceros-sized prey, and in the sea.

After the event the Earth was a cold, airless place, with only one or two species eking out a poor existence. What caused destruction on such an unimaginable scale, and how did life recover?

Michael Benton’s book about this catastrophe – When Life Nearly Died: the greatest mass extinction of all time – has been published in paperback this week. Michael Benton is Professor of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the University of Bristol.

James Lovelock said of the book: “Michael Benton’s book brings back to Earth Science a sense of adventure … it is both a wonderfully good read and a valued reference”.

When Life Nearly Died documents not only what happened 251 million years ago, but also the recent rekindling of the idea of catastrophism, after it was seemingly extinguished in a great battle of ideas in the early nineteenth century. Scientists have at last come to accept that the world has been subject to huge cataclysms in the past. For the end-Permian event the killing models are controversial – was the agent the impact of a huge meteorite or comet over ten kilometres in diameter, or prolonged volcanic eruption in Siberia? The evidence has been accumulating through the 1990s and into the new millennium, and Michael Benton gives his verdict at the very end of this book.


  1. #1 Laelaps
    April 14, 2008

    Well, I guess 3 years old is relatively new….

    Benton’s book isn’t bad. I read it over winter break and it had a lot of valuable history, but I think Raup’s book Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck? is a superior work.

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    April 14, 2008

    Damn, I thought it looked familiar … let me check…

    Well, that pisses me off. I got this as a press release dated a couple of days ago from the University of Bristol. What is new is that it is now out in paper back … revising post now…

  3. #3 Ericb
    April 14, 2008

    I prefer Douglas Erwin’s “Extinction: How Life on Earth Nearly Ended 250 Million Years Ago”. It focuses purely on the Permain extinction without digressing into the history of catastrophism.


  4. #4 lamar
    May 6, 2010

    Very cool that the paperback version of the best selling book “HELLS AQUARIUM,” by Steve Alten is now in stores. It’s about the biggest shark that ever lived. Good stuff indeed. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0765365855/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_1?pf_rd_p=486539851&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe-1&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=1935142046&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=0T9NG9QDGRE25ER2S3CC