Because the world has been almost completely destroyed half a dozen times. [..] Earth has been shattered by asteroid impacts, choked by extreme greenhouse gases, locked up in ice, bombarded with cosmic radiation, and ripped open by megavolcanoes so massive they are almost unimaginable. Each of these disasters caused mass extinctions, during which more than 75% of the species on Earth died out. And yet every single time, living creatures carried on, adapting to survive under the harshest of conditions.Humans, Newitz says, have also adapted: to past episodes of climate change, to new locales, to new diets, and to persecution at the hands of other humans. That repeated pattern of survival and adaptation - of life as a whole and of humanity in particular - convinces Newitz that we can do it again.That optimistic theme makes the book a delightfully fun and engaging read. 263 pages crammed full of ecosystem collapse, extinctions, pandemics, wars, and existential threats would, in the hands of another writer, been a bleak and exhausting affair. Instead, it's a witty whirlwind tour of survival and renewal even in the face of horrific calamity.Newitz is the editor in chief of the science and science fiction site io9.com, and it shows. Not content to look only at the past, she sprinkles the text with the forward-looking views of some of the world's most insightful science fiction authors (along with a dash of pop culture), and closes the book with a glimpse of the million year future - the necessity that humanity diversifies beyond this one planet and moves some of its eggs out of this single fragile basket if we want to maximize our odds of truly long-term survival.Newitz's work at io9 is also on display in the pace of the book. Each chapter reads like an extended article, often on a topic about which whole books have been written. That brevity means that scientific controversies cannot be handled at length, though Newitz does take care to state where such controversies exist, and to sketch out the opposing viewpoints. My only frustration as a reader was in frequently wanting to pause the book and drill down deeper into the topic at hand, with a longer chapter than the one I'd just read, rather than moving on to a new topic post-haste. The flip side is that the book never wears out its welcome. Upon turning the final page, I only wanted more.Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction, by Annalee Newitz, Doubleday. Follow Scientific American on Twitter @SciAm and @SciamBlogs. Visit ScientificAmerican.com for the latest in science, health and technology news.
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