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on 22 July 2010
This is a rare find. An excellent read, written by an expert who avoids unecessary jargon but does not shy away from the level of detail needed to communicate the issues - a major fault of most "popular science" books. Where detail is needed, Stow takes the time to spell things out clearly and concisely. Some nice greyscale or line drawing illustrations are scattered through the book and serve the text well. The style is lucid and relaxed, with a good mix of personal backstory and anecdote that properly serve the substance rather than being merely thrown in to dilute the facts in case the reader cant handle them. Indeed these help to communicate Stow's enthusism and inspiration, as well as being a nice advert for a career in academic geology: there are even a few suggestions of nice food/wine combinations if you are ever visiting the sites Stow is discussing!

Stow anchors the book around the vanished ocean of Tethys, which gives the book shape, but this allows him to cover a huge range of material beyond the bare geology, including paleoclimatology, paleobiology and extinction theories, human evolution, marine sciences and critical discussion of pertinent scientific methods. These are all explained well and integrated into a wholistic view that he communicates superbly, drawing on personal and published data from sites ranging around the world, which he takes space to discuss and bring to life vividly. There is sufficient minor repetition in the different sections to prevent constant backflicking without being irritating. He is explicit about areas of uncertainty and controversy, and presents both sides. The book is very succesful at communicating the geologic concept of deep time and just how dynamic and changeable our planet continues to be at that scale, and Stow takes space to give a nice perspective in that light on the present debate on human contributions to the current extinction crisis and recent climate change. The book covers very different but slightly overlapping ground to Tony Hallam's very good Catastrophes and Lesser Calamities: The causes of mass extinctions. If you enjoyed the wonderfully written The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals died out and we survived by Clive Finlayson, you will find this as well written and cogently put together.

I have a medical background obviously not in this field and I think this book is a triumph for the interested non-specialist reader, and an outstanding example of "academic popular science" if you get my gist. If you are at all interested in the history of our planet and its life, and are willing to be taken beyond irritatingly facile TV documentaries that are so prevalent, you should read this book. I took it on holiday and a chapter or so each day made a fine and more stimulating accompanyment to my other diet of fiction.
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on 9 June 2010
I read this book intending it to be light relief from my geological studies and it proved an excellent way of 'seeing the wood for the trees' as the book covers, in an engaging way, the full history of the Tethys Ocean without getting too tied down in the complex detail.
Dorrik Stow is a well known sceptic about the KT boundary being due to a single event, and he makes his case within this book, but seems to carry that sceptism through to trying to prove that the indicators for the Chicxulub bolide were caused by other events which seems to me to be unnecessary as many geologists would believe the event did occur and was additive to the environmental stresses from other causes. That minor point aside the book is an excellent read from an author with great depth of knowledge and experience meaning that the complex mechanisms involved are covered accurately but without resort to the arcane language so beloved of many geological authors.
I suppose the book will be filed in stores under 'popular science' which is an impossibly wide target audience so my 4 stars is based on my own special interest; many general readers would find it worthy of 5 stars.
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on 27 November 2010
I enjoyed this book in every respect but the occasionally condescending anecdotes that the author regales the reader with. Apart from that it is an easily accessible, well contextualised and fairly thorough exploration of the origins, life and eventual demise of the Tethys Ocean. I am a mature undergraduate student of earth science but an interested amateur would easily assimilate this book. Overall, I would recommend it for anyone interested in this fascinating part of our planet's history.
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on 2 November 2012
This is a fascinating story of breaking, moving and merging continents, and the consequences of these processes for the great but now-vanished Tethys Ocean. Dorrick Stow does an excellent job, not only telling the story but giving his readers enough background (plate tectonics & sedimentology, for examples) to ensure we can follow his narrative. He brings home how radically our world has changed since the Cambrian explosion, especially during and after the Mesozoic when Tethys had its day. Another strong thread is his account of the ecology of Tethys and how this can be interpreted from the sediments and fossils of the period. Inevitably this involves accounts of evolutionary diversification and extinction as global circumstances changed, and includes a salutary counter-argument to the view that the great KT extinction event was caused solely by a bolide-impact. (Interestingly, the authors of the chapter on dinosaur-extinction in "The Dinosauria" [Eds. Weishampel et al. 2004] agree to differ as to whether dinosaurs were already in decline before the end of the Cretaceous). One legacy of Tethys with modern economic implications is the series of great oilfields, and DS gives an illuminating picture of the Tethyan circumstances leading to their origin and geographical distribution. I liked DS's occasional personal anecdotes of his research trips and of key sites, which give some flavour of the foot-work needed to gather the evidence on which this whole story depends. Overall I enjoyed reading this book, and (more to the point) I learnt a lot and was enthused enough to read further. Thank you, Dorrick Stow.
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on 6 March 2013
I suppose that I might have read a few reviews before I bought this book. Geomorphology/Geology was one area of study in my degree in Geography (more years ago now than I care to recall) which I always enjoyed and since retiring I have taken the opportunity to bring myself up to date. I found this book very disappointing with far too little on process and physical evidence and far too much padding. I'm really not interested in a reiteration of the author's curriculum vitae nor his family life both of which are frequently referred to and add nothing to understanding the subject. The photo illustrations are very poorly reproduced and the line drawings of life forms are in a curious style.
The author was, in my opinion, very badly served by OUP as the hard cover edition I bought was poorly constructed. I'm not a spine-cracker but pages were already becoming semi-detached from this brand new copy even before I was half way through reading it.
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on 9 January 2013
This is a book about an ocean that vanished six million years ago: the ocean of Tethys, named after a Greek sea nymph. The oceans are important to climate and environment, and therefore to life on Earth. The story of Tethys is also a story of extinctions, and floods, and extraordinary episodes such as the virtual drying up of the Mediterranean, before being filled again by a dramatic cascade of water over the straits of Gibraltar.

I was asked to review this book when it was released two years ago. I struggled through the book not because it was poorly written (it is well written in a style similar to the very readable Richard Fortey) but because the text contained so much information that it was hard to grasp all at one time. Not surprising as it covered the geologic history of Planet Earth (or rather the Tethys Ocean at its zenith covering 82% of the planet) from 250 million years ago to 5½ million years ago in a gigantic detective story. And like the fictional crime stories on television I needed quite a few diagrams stuck on the notice board to maintain my focus. The paperback book contains a few useful monochrome diagrams as prompts rather than the main content.

As a child of the fifties the unifying theme of the new Tectonic Plate Theory was not explained very well to me on the chalkboard. It is the opinion of Dorrik Stow (and one shared intuitively by me) that the movement of the continents, and oceans, were more important that the "KT boundary event". Let the jury of readers decide (my comment). A lot of evidence is presented to you and as a layman I was slightly overwhelmed and I would need a foreman (teacher) as a guide. It might be easier to grasp with a lot of colour diagrams so I could get an overall view. So the onus is on the writer who as an internationally renowned geologist clearly knows his stuff to explain the case (the gradual extinction of species rather than the abrupt loss of many species) and it provides lots of interesting facts along the way. e.g. how it was the depth sounders first mapped the ocean floor.

I am glad I dipped into the book and I have not finished it yet. It is only a cheap paperback and I think it is rather essential reading. And each chapter is like a book on its own. The information is rather condensed with the intensity of poetry so that make it difficult to take in a lot at one time. The small index seems like an afterthought, or abridged, and it was comprehensive but missed out on the first test of what I wanted to look up. The contents do not lead to information retrieval very easily if you want to revise on say the chalk seas: the Chalk-Flint cycles starts on page 156 and quickly jumps to the Milankovitch Cycles, which may be a jump too far for the casual reader who is not familiar with the last Ice Ages? Sometimes I think the text could be reordered to make it easier to understand without sacrificing any of the explanation.

For a sample of the writing and theme, open the paperback version at page 141

The paperback version is quite well made and does not fall to pieces like some other well thumbed books.

Andy Horton
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on 14 September 2016
This is a book (as I suspected) is aimed at the general interest reader. I was hoping some key questions would be explained but the author waffled on too much to answer them. The book cost me less than a fiver so all is not lost. I just wish it was a little more scientific. If I were to read the book without seeing to cover It would be hard to guess the title!
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on 28 December 2015
Absolutely wonderful book - kept me spellbound until the last page, when I started again at the beginning to catch all the information I was bound to have missed in such a concentrated feast on the first reading. I had heard of the Tethys Ocean, but had certainly not before appreciated the extent of the then world it covered, and the extent of the effect of its closure on such a wide area of Europe, North Africa and Asia. Professor Stow's book has filled in so many of the enormous gaps in my understanding, especially of mountain building episodes - The Alps, the Himalayas, and so many other gaps as well. This book is so delightful in that a complete layman with no knowledge of geology or oceanography could be spellbound by it and the fast-moving pace of the text. Oh for a television series based on this book - or even just one humdinger of a programme.
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on 10 February 2014
I've got this in hard-back, so knew the paper-back would make a great gift.

This excellent book covers a vast sweep of time.
From the assembly of Pangea to its subsequent break-up, the opening of Tethys ocean, the drift of Africa and India, the closure of Tethys --Mediterranean & Black-Sea are its last fragments, the Himalayas began as its sea-bed-- and, many millennia hence, what happens when Africa squashes the Med, Australia runs into SE Asia and E. Africa un-zips...

Along the way, there are sundry mass extinctions, marine transgressions, vast eruptions and even the occasional asteroid impact...

IMHO, it is a wonderful read.

ps: Keep a bookmark in the glossary at the back of the book...
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on 1 May 2012
that would be a 5 star for me.
Absorbing, good balance of details, very good maps and graphs,and above all well written.

Another good thing is that Mr Stow provides, to my taste, the right amount of personal details. Enough to spice the book but not too much to loose the point of focus or to annoy the reader. These personal details are quite often humoristic.

In a word, one of best popular science book on geology i have ever read.

NB: Another good read in a similar fashion would be: Michael Benton, "When life nearly died"
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