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Description - Life in the Balance by Niles Eldredge

In Life in the Balance, Niles Eldredge argues that the Earth is confronting a disaster in the making--an ecological crisis that, if left unresolved, could ultimately lead to mass extinction on the scale of that which killed the dinosaurs sixty-five million years ago. Writing for general readers, he reviews compelling evidence for this "biodiversity crisis," showing that species are dying out at an unnaturally rapid rate. He demonstrates the importance of maintaining biodiversity, taking the reader on a journey that reveals the twin faces of biodiversity--over thirteen million living species and the ecosystems through which these species transform the sun's energy into life-sustaining matter. Throughout, Eldredge shows how our own fate is intricately linked with that of other species. Eldredge, one of the world's foremost paleontologists, begins by taking us to the heart of Botswana's Okavango Delta, considered by many to be among the last "Edens" left on Earth--a place where a rich assortment of organisms exist in natural equilibrium. However, it is also a place where the results of human activity--pollution, clear-cutting, water-diversion, encroaching agriculture, disease--now pose the same ecological threats that, on a worldwide scale, put the entire planet at risk. Eldredge then leads us on a fascinating exploration of the Earth's organisms--animals, plants, fungi, the microbes that underpin all life--and of the diverse ecosystems from the tundra to the tropics in which these organisms live. It is a journey that demonstrates the inherent value of the millions of species and ecosystems on Earth, and the importance of biodiversity to the entire biosphere and to humans' continued existence. Eldredge concludes that humans not only are responsible for the biodiversity crisis but also hold the key to preventing an impending Sixth Extinction. He argues that we must, among other strategies, pledge ourselves to sustainable development and the conservation of wild places. An eloquent and passionate account by one of today's leading scientists, Life in the Balance will draw new attention to one of the most pressing problems now facing the world. In this book, Eldredge explores the same themes that illuminate The American Museum of Natural History's new Hall of Biodiversity, for which he is Scientific Curator. The Hall is scheduled to open in spring 1998.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780691050096
ISBN-10: 0691050090
Format: Paperback
(254mm x 197mm x 13mm)
Pages: 240
Imprint: Princeton University Press
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publish Date: 31-Jan-2000
Country of Publication: United States

Other Editions - Life in the Balance by Niles Eldredge

Book Reviews - Life in the Balance by Niles Eldredge

UK Kirkus Review » Yet another volume on the 'biodiversity crisis', this book is written by a curator of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The book presents a more long-term view of biodiversity problems, noting the differences between the present extinction problems and comparing the cause and results to the 'great extinctions' of the past, when dinosaurs and marine invertebrates were the main losses. Eldredge's conclusion is largely the same as the biologists: the current crisis is severe and we need to do a lot to avert, or at least lessen, the effect of the impending 'Sixth Extinction'. Starting with a microcosmic excursion to Botswana's Okavango Delta, Eldredge offers a grand tour through life's organisms, and along the way, numerous prescriptions. Although clumsily written in places this book has much to offer. (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » From a leading paleontologist, a book (not a catalogue) to complement a show: the American Museum of Natural History's first "issues" exhibition, opening this spring in New York City, with curator Eldredge in charge. The theme is familiar to Eldredge (Reinventing Darwin, 1995, etc.) fans and environmentalists worldwide. In the author's dramatic words, the planet has undergone five major extinctions since life began - and we now face a sixth, the product of our own actions. The book sets out to answer four questions: What is biodiversity? Why should we care about it? What precisely threatens it? And what can we do to stem the tide? The answers are played out in terms of the twin "modes" that influence life: evolution and ecosystems. Interestingly, Eldredge begins with a close-up view of territory he knows well: Botswana, home to the Eden-like Okavango River delta, as well as the nearby dry Kalahari region. Vagaries of climate (recent drought), population increases, cattle-raising, abandonment of the local hunter-gatherer lifestyle for agriculture - these are among the major threats to the survival of the "big hairies," as well as numerous others, including a species of termites that plays a unique role in the ecosystem. The book's remaining sections celebrate global biodiversity, allowing Eldredge to indulge in picking his favorites across the flora and fauna (nicely illustrated). The value of diversity addresses esthetics as well as the need to ensure variation for evolution to play upon, not to mention the potential for new sources of drugs and other useful goods. As for stemming the tide, the message is control, control, control (of excesses, land use, population) and empowerment of women and of local peoples to utilize local resources wisely - messages often heard but little heeded. In a book that's part rhapsody, part sermon, Eldredge once more may be addressing a choir of believers. One can only hope that the throngs attending the exhibition absorb and act on the message. (Kirkus Reviews)

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