The Ends of the World by Peter Brannen review – Earth under threat | Books

As science journalist Peter Brannen points out, life is extremely fragile, a “thin glaze of interesting chemistry on an otherwise unremarkable, cooling ball of stone”. So fragile, in fact, that in the planet’s history there have been five mass extinctions, when nearly all life has been wiped out. The question hanging over this book is whether the current most dominant species on the planet is about to cause a sixth mass extinction.

Peter Brannen. Photograph: Matt Misisco

To answer this, Brannen takes us back millions of years: “to see the world through the lens of geology is to see the world for the first time”. His evocative prose brings the “incomprehensible eternities” of ancient history vividly alive as he meets the scientists who are piecing together the events of these violent periods when life became impossible. As one says, ominously for our own era: “When there are severe, rapid changes in the carbon cycle, it doesn’t end well.” A remarkable journey into the deep past that has much to teach us about the future of our planet.

The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans and our Quest to Understand Earth’s Past Mass Extinctions is published by Oneworld. To order a copy for £9.45 (RRP £10.99) go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.

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