Gorgon: Paleontology, Obsession, and the Greatest Catastrophe in Earth's History

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9780670030941: Gorgon: Paleontology, Obsession, and the Greatest Catastrophe in Earth's History
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An investigation into a 250-million-year-old environmental apocalypse that predated the age of the dinosaurs describes an event that caused the annihilation of ninety percent of all plant and animal species on Earth, taking a close up look at the prehistoric world of the gorgons, the causes of mass extinctions, and their implications for the future of humankind.

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In Gorgon, geologist Peter Ward turns his attention reluctantly away from the asteroid collision that killed all the dinosaurs and instead focuses on a much older extinction event. As it turns out, the Permian extinction of 250 million years ago dwarfs the dino's 65-million-year-old Cretaceous-Tertiary armageddon. Ward's book is not a dry accounting of the fossil discoveries leading to this conclusion, but rather an intimate, first-person account of some of his triumphs and disappointments as a scientist. He draws a nice parallel between the Permian extinction and his own rather abrupt in research focus, revealing the agonizing steps he had to take to educate himself about a set of prehistoric creatures about which he knew almost nothing. These were the Gorgons, carnivorous reptiles whose ecological dominance preceded that of the more pop-culture-ready dinosaurs.

They would have had huge heads with very large, saberlike teeth, large lizard eyes, no visible ears, and perhaps a mixture of reptilian scales and tufts of mammalian hair.... The Gorgons ruled a world of animals that were but one short evolutionary step away from being mammals.

With characteristic enthusiasm, Ward transports readers with him to South Africa's Karoo desert, where he participated in field expeditions seeking fossils of these fearsome creatures. He suffers routine tick patrols, puff-adder avoidance lessons, stultifying thirst, and the everyday humiliations of being the new guy on a field team. Besides telling a fascinating paleological story, Gorgon lets readers feel a bone-hunter's passion and pain. --Therese Littleton

About the Author:

Peter Ward, a recognized authority on mass extinctions, is professor of geological sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. His books include Future Evolution, The End of Evolution, and, with Donald Brownlee, Rare Earth and The Life and Death of Planet Earth.

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