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A Guide to the End of the World: Everything You Never Wanted to Know [Paperback]

Bill McGuire , Director of the Benfield Greig Hazard Research Centre UCL
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Jan. 8 2004
Life on earth will come to an end. It's just a matter of when. A Guide to the End of the World focuses on the many potential catastrophes facing our planet and our species in the future, and looks at both the probability of these events happening and our chances of survival. Coverage extends from discussion of the likely consequences of the current global warming to the inevitable destruction of the earth in the far future, when it is enveloped by our giant, bloated sun. In between, other'end of the world scenarios' will be examined, including the New Ice Age, asteroid and comet impact, supervolcanoes, and mega-tsunami.

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Nothing lasts forever, and we are all going to die. Since we've lived with these givens all our lives, it's not really surprising that we enjoy books about the end of the world such as Bill McGuire's A Guide to the End of the World. Going all together would be so much more fun.

McGuire's account of likely natural catastrophes is a splendidly integrated mechanism, relating rising tides to volcanic eruptions, eruptions to floods, global warming to local cooling--it's amazing we've lasted as long as we have (not sarcasm: fact).

Of course, the boundary between the "natural" and the "man-made" disaster is (and has been, since we arrived on the scene) a grey area. The marked success of one species threatens extinction on all. The super-success of homo sapiens bodes ill, not only for individual species, but for the whole environment.

And this, not surprisingly, is where McGuire's book starts to leave the rails. McGuire writes: "By wiping out the bulk of species that exist today, we are destroying much of the evolution's raw material and severely limiting the planet's ability to generate the species of the future." First, this is a classic piece of misdirection: we have not, as McGuire implies, destroyed the bulk of other species (although we may in the future). More important, its conclusion is plain nonsense. The mass extinction event at the end of the Palaeozoic Era (there have been four others in Earth's history already) wiped out something like 96 per cent of all species--yet life, far from being stunted, blossomed in the gaps, more various than ever before. McGuire would do better to argue that mass extinctions make room for new species to evolve! McGuire's book is a lively entertainment. But his breast-beating is hard to swallow. --Simon Ings --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


`Review from previous edition each chapter does cover the current state of knowledge with impressive thoroughness, often backed by striking facts and figures' New Scientist

`I would heartily recommend Bill McGuire's potted histroy of the Earth and its many mechanicanisms of destruction' www.bluegreenearth.com

`The book is pacy and terrifying' Literary Review

`a convincing, gripping and, at times. terrifying, case' TNT Magazine

`If you like self mutilation, this book will make a humorous light read at bedtime' Front Magazine

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5.0 out of 5 stars Chicken Little was right Dec 30 2002
There's a lot to worry about here, and frankly I'm worried. The main disaster that I didn't know about until I read this intriguing little book is the volcanic "super-eruption." Take your standard volcanic blast and multiply it by something like a thousand and one begins to get the picture. Not only that, but a super-eruption isn't necessarily going to happen around the old fault lines or Vulcan sites. No, a super-eruption with enough power to usher in a "volcanic winter" can happen suddenly without warning virtually anywhere.
The really scary thing about super-eruptions is that not only can't they be predicted, they can't be prevented. In this sense they are worse than an earth-crossing asteroid or unleashed Oort Cloud comets. We might be able to see a meteor coming our way and with current technology nudge it off its course or blast it into smaller pieces, but there is absolutely nothing we can do about a super-eruption. Even if the super-eruption takes place halfway around the world, its effects, possibly leading to a civilization-ending volcanic winter, will be felt everywhere. With the social disruption, the disease, and the cold and starvation, the living (to recall a phrase from the Cold War) may very well envy the dead.
McGuire, who is Benfield Greig Professor of Geophysical Hazards at University College London, recalls for our delectation, "perhaps the greatest volcanic explosion ever" that took place at Toba in northern Sumatra 73,500 years ago. It qualified as a Volcanic Explosivity Index 8 (VEI 8) event, which means it was about one thousand times as powerful as the VEI 5 1980 blast at Mount St. Helens.
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