TITLE: The Worst of Times: How Life on Earth Survived Eighty Million Years of Extinctions
AUTHOR: Paul B. Wignall
PUBLICATION DATE: 2017 (Second printing, first paperback printing)
260 million years ago, life on Earth suffered several waves of catastrophic extinctions, with the worst extinction wiping out over 90% of species on the planet. In this book, Professor Wignall investigates the worst 80 million years in Earth’s history, a time marked by two mass extinctions (the end Permian and the Triassic) and four lesser crises; and sheds light on the fateful role the supercontinent of Pangea might have played in causing these global catastrophes. These global catastrophes all have two factors in common: (1) they occurred when the world’s continents were united into the single continent of Pangea; and (2) they coincided with gigantic volcanic eruptions. The period covered in this book begins in the middle of the Permian Period, spans the entire Triassic, and finishes in the Early Jurassic.
This book examines what happened during the Permo-Jurassic extinctions of Pangea, evaluate what may have caused these catastrophes (more specifically, to ask, how volcanism could have done it?), and finally to understand whether the resilience of the biosphere has changed in 260 million years or whether it has just become luckier thanks to continental separation i.e. are supercontinents bad for life.
Wignall examines each of the extinction events in chronological order, with numerous illustrations/diagrams as necessary to help clarify the text. One complaint other reviewers have written about is the scientific jargon used in this book, but I have no idea how the author was supposed to make a strong argument for his hypothesis without the relevant terminology. However, I did not consider the use of scientific terms to be excessive or complicated - the author does not go into excruciating chemical detail; he states what happens and why in understandable terms.
This is primarily a book about a time when Earth was very different, a time of supercontinents, super-oceans, and super-eruptions, and above all, an age of mass extinctions. I found the writing to be clear and logical and the book to be thoroughly enjoyable and informative.