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No Turning Back: The Extinction Scenario [Kindle Edition]

Richard Ellis
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Conservationist Richard Ellis’s fascinating examination of extinction, “one of the most powerful forces on earth, and one of the most enigmatic”  

In No Turning Back, naturalist Richard Ellis conducts a masterful and engrossing investigation of one of the world’s most harrowing inevitabilities: extinction. Taking a concentrated look at a variety of species—from those that went out with a bang upon the impact of an Everest-sized asteroid to those that gradually disappeared after years of human overhunting—Ellis discusses the five great mass extinctions in history, and how extinction shapes the evolutionary process. He also outlines the steps we can take to ensure that today’s endangered species can be pulled back from the brink. Richly illustrated with Ellis’s stunning, hand-drawn artwork, No Turning Back is an invaluable read for anyone seeking to understand the past, present, and future of life on our planet.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars inaccurate 18 Nov. 2013
By fergus
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book is largely a collection of vignettes on extinction. Some of these are very interesting and worth reading, however sometimes there are inaccuracies that I find hard to believe a biologist could make; the Spix's macaw is successfully being bred (page 271), yes a Qatari Sheikh did by one, but the Qatari's have set up a breeding programme in the impressive Al Wabra breeding centre (no mention). He mentions Woolly Rhinos in North America, really? they have never existed there as far as I know. He says there are many kill sites of mammoths in North America. No there aren't, that is why the debate is still raging on as to what killed the mammoths off. No mention of the attempt to re-create the Aurochs by the TaurOs project. He says we tried to set out to destroy the Whales, not really true, we set out to hunt them not destroy them (although that is the result). Some aspects of the book are out of date - the Chinese river dolphin and the Vietnamese rhino are already extinct. Ellis says Black footed ferrets are no longer in the wild - not so - there are 1,000 in the wild in 4 locations. An ok book but sloppy research at times. I am giving the book 3 stars not 2, because it does provide a lot of information - most accurate enough (apart from the glaring errors above) and it is noble in its intention.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.7 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Crying wolf 14 Jan. 2005
By Russell Finley - Published on
"No Turning Back" is a hybrid of several other books on the subject that I have read: "Extinction-Evolution and the end of man" by Michael Boulter, "The Sixth Extinction" by Richard Leakey, and "Song of the Dodo" by David Quammen. Interestingly enough, the blurbs on the back cover are for other books written by Ellis, not this one. His thirteen or so previous books all dealt with sea life.

Ellis is an excellent writer. This book is well-researched and full of interesting facts. You would think that I would know a thing or two about extinction judging from the books I have read on the subject but I learned a lot from this one. For example, hyperdisease is a disease capable of wiping out an entire species. Irrevocable evidence of just such a disease has been found in the most recent bones of Mastodons. It is assumed by the timing of the epidemic to have been spread by people and their dogs. We may be witnessing the same thing with the frogs of the world. I do not want to give too much of the book away, but you can count on seeing lots of good tidbits like this.

Anything a lay person would want to know about the topic of extinction in general is covered. He also talks about species that have been brought back from the brink, the probability of resurrecting extinct species, and new species that have been discovered. If you do not already know much about extinction, this book will be fascinating.

Personally, I am less interested in ancient extinction events than in finding solutions to halt the one currently in progress. Ellis finishes his book with the standard ominous suggestion that humanity may be positioning itself for extinction. This warning bell has been ringing out since 1962 when Rachel Carson wrote "Silent Spring." You would think (as we head for the half-century mark for her book) that the concept would have taken hold, but it hasn't, strongly suggesting that it never will. The wolf may be coming, but the warning has lost its effect over time. The debate over using DDT is raging all over again.

Missing from the book, as with most other books like it, are innovative suggestions for how to end this event. It has been estimated that for about 28 billion dollars enough critical habitat could be bought or leased to protect 70 percent of the known plant and animal species in the world. Our current attempt to establish a democracy in Iraq has already cost us five times that much. Such is human nature.

It is also human nature to form into groups complete with a geographic boundary and a label. These boundaries are called countries. All through history, in times of war, the areas adjacent to the warring parties widen into what is called a no man's land. Given time, these off limits areas are taken back by nature. This has happened in the no man's land between the two Koreas and it is an excellent example of what happens when human beings are kept out, in this case, by warring factions. No one goes hungry in South Korea just because that piece of land is not farmed. Whereas the hunger found in North Korea is caused by its poor economy. Will our technology explosion outstrip our population explosion? Can we find ways to stay housed and fed without destroying the rest of nature?

I highly recommend Ellis' book. It is by far the best I have read on the subject of extinction.

Russ Finley, Author of "Poison Darts-Protecting the biodiversity of our world."
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Poorly Written 14 Mar. 2011
By K Roth - Published on
The book intends to be a broad compendium of extinction, beginning with prehistoric mass extinctions, then going forward in time to its main emphasis on man-made extinctions. The book can really be separated into parts I and II, which report and speculate on prehistoric extinction theories, and part III ("Finale") which accounts for 2/3 of the book and is a fairly haphazard menagerie of extinct or critically endangered species. The entire book skips around a lot, most evidently in Part III, which makes it difficult to follow. It is as if the author summarized all the articles he had in his file cabinet - the files simply being "mammals" or "oceans."

The book is an interesting, if winding, road through various "fun facts" of extinction. That said, the author misses the mark on some of his arguments - most notably his speculations about the Pleistocene mass extinctions. Despite correlating these extinctions with human migrations, he insists that most Pleistocene megafauna were killed by "hyperdisease," This, despite the author's inclusion that "no disease known to science is capable of killing off an entire species," let alone several - all of which happen to be large and very huntable.

The book also displays a shocking number of taxonomic errors. Most striking is the glaring misunderstanding of what a subspecies is - inexcusable for a biological author. Species and subspecies are confused routinely. Sentences such as "There are three distinct species and one subspecies" are understood by biologists to be patently wrong. Within the same bewildering paragraph, the author describes two forms of tigers, followed by a sentence describing eight subspecies, five of which are living. Then two pages later, he describes the "Chinese Tiger" as extinct, even though two of his extant subspecies were the South China and Indochinese Tigers. Confusing and sloppy writing like this is evident throughout the book. Other gems include giving two different genus names to the same shark in back-to-back sentences, and stating there are "three subspecies of gorillas" on one page (gorilla, graueri, and beringei), while mentioning a fourth (diehli) just a page before. These are the sort of mistakes usually dispelled in Biology 101.

Also, there is an inordinate amount of "guilt-tripping" about extinctions. Statements such as "we tried our best to kill off the great whales" seem a little too much for me. The book is written as if you and the author are responsible for the death of these animals. I understand the tactic here, but it is used far too much in the book - enough to be repetitive.

Not recommended, except for a compendium of small tidbits of trivia - most of which you will have to verify independently.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Last Lonely One 30 Jun. 2006
By Seachranaiche - Published on
In "No Turning Back", Richard Ellis conjures these emotions for the sole remaining members of species soon to be extinct, such as the last passenger pigeon or the last Carolina parakeet, which finished out their lives in zoos. It is not the animals themselves who feel the lonely demise of their DNA, their unique genetic make-up, their strings of molecules that are never to be known on the Earth again--Ellis does not anthropomorphize, the animals have no idea that they represent the last of their kind--but humans who have viewed the last of these species and have known that this is it; there will be no more. There is the odd case here and there when a migrating species has been reduced to such a low number that the few remaining individuals--still engaging in their migratory behavior--return to breeding grounds to find that they are all alone. They carry on, though, back and forth through their migratory cycle until they die of natural causes or other events. These few survivors cannot know that they are the last of their kind, but they must know deep in their genes that something is terribly wrong.

It is all very sad, and such a waste.

Ellis spends a great deal of the book discussing recent man-caused extinctions. This testimony is the most disturbing, especially when modern extinction events are dwarfing those massive extinction events that occurred deep in geologic time, extinctions that may have been caused by astronomical events or geologic upheavals; that humans are capable of such destruction. It is all very sobering. Too often, a dying species is known to be on the brink, even by the least educated among us, yet the killing goes on against tigers and elephants and rhinoceros and apes... Ellis works to downplay the notion that an extinct species somehow deserved its extinction, as if its inability to adapt quickly to the rise of Homo sapiens shows that it is inferior in some way.

The book does not just describe human-caused extinctions--Ellis discusses historical extinctions as well, and calls into question some recent theories such as the Cretaceous asteroid impact. How could this event affect only dinosaurs, leaving just about everything else virtually intact, including many fragile species? He applies this question to many of the periodic extinction events, with one sure conclusion: There must have been much more going on than we are aware.

Overall, this is a very informative book; its modern chapters are akin to Douglas Adams' "Last Chance to See" in the wasteful finality of it all, but the book is organized poorly and is difficult to read. Ellis jumps back and forth, from birds to mammals and then back to birds again throughout the book, as if the book were pasted together from remnant articles collected over a period of time (and perhaps this is the case). He mentions the "K-T Extinction...which wiped out the non-avian dinosaurs" so many times that I lost count, and I wondered why he kept bringing it up.

Read the book as a reference resource for extinction events, but be prepared to be at it for a while: the book is very dry.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nutty Morons Aside... 11 May 2009
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
After reading the review from the raving egotist who gave the book one star simply because Mr. Ellis doesn't think he's as smart as his mom told him he is I thought that I should write one too, but I'll keep it short.
If you are interested in nature, science, etc. and are looking for an engaging, casual book to spend some time with you'll learn a lot from this one.
The book is written for the Average Joe and is in Average Joe language, so if you believe that you're the guy Einstein stole all his ideas from you might find the book too simplistic, but if you're a normal person who likes reading about science the book will keep you entertained.
Oh and watch out for Steve Alten. He's apparently been getting into dad's special Kool-Aid again.
5.0 out of 5 stars No Turning Back 21 Dec. 2012
By HMK - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A book explaining the scientific evidence for evolution. It is an easy to understand book for the majority of folks.
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