"The focus is the most severe mass extinction known in earth's history….The science on which the book is based is up-to-date, thorough, and balanced. Highly recommended."—ChoiceToday it is common knowledge that the dinosaurs were wiped out by a meteorite impact 65 million years ago that killed half of all species then living. Far less known is a much greater catastrophe that took place at the end of the Permian period 251 million years ago: ninety percent of life was destroyed, including saber-toothed reptiles and their rhinoceros-sized prey on land, as well as vast numbers of fish and other species in the sea.This book documents not only what happened during this gigantic mass extinction but also the recent rekindling of the idea of catastrophism. Was the end-Permian event caused by the impact of a huge meteorite or comet, or by prolonged volcanic eruption in Siberia? The evidence has been accumulating through the 1990s and into the new millennium, and Michael Benton gives his verdict at the end of the volume.From field camps in Greenland and Russia to the laboratory bench, When Life Nearly Died involves geologists, paleontologists, environmental modelers, geochemists, astronomers, and experts on biodiversity and conservation. Their working methods are vividly described and explained, and the current disputes are revealed. The implications of our understanding of crises in the past for the current biodiversity crisis are also presented in detail. 46 illustrations.