My apologies to the Paleontology bros. I thought you were boys that wanted to play with dinosaur bones and never grow up. Maybe that’s true for some, but like most things, it’s a broadly overstated stereotype. I had no idea how interesting and diversified paleontology could be until I read The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth’s Past Mass Extinctions By Peter Brannen. I came about reading this book because I’m a connoisseur of Apocalypses; personal, local, regional, global. I pick them apart and study the bones. Why does one species suffer an Extinction Level Event (ELE) while others adapt and survive?
On a personal level this boils down to the difference between surviving and eventually thriving beyond a catastrophic event or stepping off the ledge. What’s defined as a “catastrophic event” depends on the person. One person’s chaos is another person’s status quo. How do you survive, psychologically? Through resilience. How do you become resilient? By changing your perspective. How do you change your perspective? Through education and observation. What is the reward? Adaptability. Adaptability encourages resourcefulness which increases your survivability…in a nutshell.
You can take that last paragraph and replace person with society, business, or organization.
What I like about Peter Brannen’s book is that it lays out what the earth endured long before humans ever walked upon it. We weren’t even a speck on the geological timeline of anything resembling Homo Sapiens! Dinosaurs, three Extinction Level Events, but it was the last one that eventually did them in. When we think of the dinosaur’s extinction we think; “Oh, an asteroid hit the earth and boom! The dinosaurs instantly died.” This doesn’t appear to be the case though. Neither dinosaurs nor their food sources were completely obliterated during the event. Some survived, but over time their numbers could not be replenished and eventually they did die out. We know this because some fossils have been found indicating that the dinosaur died 700,000 years after that event.
Can you guess what animal is alive today that some dinosaurs used to eat as a source of food? Sharks! Crazy right!?!?! The shark was known as Carcharocles megalodon and is the very enormous ancestor to the great white shark. I’ve changed my mind, paleontology is actually pretty cool. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Saber-Toothed Tiger and that’s part of paleontology too, because the definition is simply “the study of fossils.”
I’ve been educating myself about plants, particularly Pacific Northwest native plants, over the last several years, so it was really interesting to read about the importance of paleobotany in Mr. Brannen’s book. I’ve always loved ferns and mosses. To me, they are the embellishments of what makes a stand of trees a forest. There is nothing more magical to me than having my eyes greeted by long green corridors carpeted in mosses and masses of ferns.
I hope you’ll give this easy-to-read science book a try. It felt effortless the way he weaved the present and past. I’ve read through a lot of dry science book out of a sense of duty, but this one I read for fun. I borrowed it from the library and loved it so much I bought a copy. I only do this with less than 3% of the books I borrow in a year. Another book that made the list was Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World By Michele Gelfand who’s a cultural psychologist. (Another cool subbranch of something I didn’t know I wanted to be when I grew up!) Her analysis helps us understand how different personalities and cultures adapt to the world around them.
There’s no wrong or right way in learning how to adapt to an ever-changing world, only variances in approach.
The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth’s Past Mass Extinctions By Peter Brannen (2017)
Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World By Michele Gelfand (2018)