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"Megacatastrophes!" by David Darling & Dirk Schulze-Makuch

Interesting release of a book predicting the likelihoods of some of the most disastrous happenings that could potentially end the human race.

Because there are still a few panicking over the fact that the world will end this December (2012), even though it's not going to happen, things couldn't come at a better time than reviewing a book covering apocalyptic events. I personally am not obsessive on how our world will end, but the thought of people freaking out on its likelihood, especially since we've underwent several of them over and over again, is amusing. I say this because I know one guy who actually thinks the world's time will be up next month. In the words of these authors: "It seems we never learn (Darling & Schulze-Makuch, 2012, p.xvi)."

To start off, make no mistake: this is about as gentle a read anyone can ever pick up. And how often are authors able to present possibilities of human extinction a fun one, all while putting down real scientific facts to support it, topped off with some humor? I found this to be a true plus, and by no means were my hands shaking having read a terrifying threat that we all have no other choice but to accept.

The threats to humanity are as follows: Nano Particles, when Physics goes Awry, Black Death, Artificial Intelligence, Supervolcanoes, Climate Change, Asteroids and Comets, Black Holes and Gamma-Ray Bursts and Alien Invasion. I have to admit, the likelihood of nano particles, plague and a supervolcano were the ones that had me startled. It's obvious that something incredibly small as atoms, or smaller, like nano particles producing "grey goo" and bacteria, are difficult to fend off physically. And having known some folks here, let alone some folks around the world, almost never cover their mouths when sneezing/coughing, habitually pick their noses and never wash their hands after using the restrooms, making this threat an actuality. (Yes, I know we already live in disease anyway, but killing off as much germs as possible to minimize spreading doesn't hurt.) As for volcanoes, the tourist attraction Yellow Stone National Park poses a huge threat (who would've thought?). It's tough to run/drive away from a volcano, and as the authors have stated, relocating to another country in a flash isn't going to happen. Makes me wonder what every geologists, volcanologists and scientists in general, are thinking: were we ever welcomed guests here on Earth?

The other threats aren't as big and likely but were fun to read. Artificial Intelligence (AI) was interesting because not only would the possibility of robots going off rummaging on their own algorithms and overtake us, but also the authors explained human's marriage with technology very well (and being so terrifyingly true). Even though there was an announcement of robot prostitutes, our connection with technology is a double-edged sword. I say so because I personally, at this time of writing, own a cell phone that's nearly four years old; It's not a touch screen, takes so-so quality pictures, can make calls and text. That's it, and that's all I need compared to what many are using and what they need/want out of their cell phones. As for video games, I'm still shining my dinosaur skin and love it. That's right: I'm still stuck in the era of 4-, 8-, 16- and 32-bit graphics from the Nintendo NES to the original PlayStation. Being that I also grew up in the decade where beepers, CRT televisions, VHS tapes, DOS command-line to 64MB RAM computers, it's amazing how much has changed. Though technology has made things very easy for all of us, it is destroying us in addition rendering human interaction pointless. Go figure.

(Speaking of man-made threats, I was surprised nuclear war wasn't mentioned. One arms control analyst states that nuclear war will ignite most likely by accident. "Can we control what we've created?" he asks.)

Another threat I found to be a joy to read was "Dark Contact." Honestly, I don't care much for aliens, UFO hunting and the like. However, I do remember seeing the hit movie E.T. at a young age, and felt unusual sparking a friendship with an entity out of this world. The closest non-human that Man has ever buddied up with would be domesticated animals like dogs, cats and so forth. Because animals are almost never prosecuted for killing humans (I'm sure some were euthanized), I can't see myself being friendly, or even being submissive, to aliens. Could they help us? If so, on what? If anything, I'd like to know the case of Schrödinger's Cat being dead and alive at the same time (and other quantum paradoxes beyond human understanding). Other than that, I don't see how we're able to fend them off in time, being that these creatures are technologically more advanced than we are. In fact, there are few who believe that we derived from alien beings. I have no comment(s) on that.

"If the theory of inflation is right, argued Guth and his MIT colleague Edward Farhi in 1987, then there's a change it could be used to create new universes in the laboratory. The process would involve concentrating enough energy at a single point. This would cause a bubble of space-time to appear, which if large enough, would undergo inflation and become a universe in its own right. Our universe wouldn't be in danger. Instead the child universe would slip through a space-time passageway known as a wormhole and rapidly disconnect completely. Then the child universe would grown on its own, with its own laws of physics, and evolve in ways that we might not even be able to imagine.

And what if this has already happened? Perhaps our universe is the product of alien scientists tinkering in laboratories in some other space and time. That's a disturbing enough idea in itself, especially if you like your gods to be of the less material variety. Worse still is the thought that these alien creators of ours might still be taking an active part in their experiment, and might decide to tinker with it in ways that would erase us from the scheme of things. There aren't any good megacatastophes, but being wiped out from a universe that had no meaning in the first place, except as perhaps the subject of some higher being's PhD thesis, would surely be the ultimate tragic ending." (Darling & Schulze-Makuch, ed 2012, p.185)

Religious authorities and practitioners would urinate their pants if they read this possibility, knowing they're praying to some nerd who made this Universe in qualifications for a Masters/Doctorate. And what more, that we're just a bunch of doddering organisms who are very much stuck on one planet, unable to browse other places in space like an avid traveller/shopper in no time flat, and confiding in with Darwin's theory of natural selection. Very interesting.

Like I said, the book is a very easy read, and along with some humor, I'm certain you will enjoy it. And yes, seeking the probabilities of getting wiped out isn't pleasant to know, hence the "Ignorance Is Bliss" slogan, but you and I are in this planet and in this life together. Because we all know our Fate, and since these threats won't happen in our lifetimes, I think it's all just curious fun. By no means is the book depressing, so take that for what you will.

To go along with these well-written chapters, the authors have provided survival tips and a "catastrophometer." Here's the chart of the catastrophometer:

Rating Probability (of megacatastrophe) Loss of human life
 0 zero 0
 1 low 10 million or more
 2 low 1 billion or more
 3 low total extinction
 4 moderate 10 million or more
 5 moderate 1 billion or more
 6 moderate total extinction
 7 high 10 million or more
 8 high 1 billion or more
 9 high total extinction
10 certain total extinction

Using this catastrophometer, shown at the end of every chapter, gives you a glimpse on which of the threats to humanity is more likely to happen in comparison to others. Buy the book and find out which is rated the highest.

If you're looking to dig in deep with the fate of humanity, hence the popular rumors surrounding the end coming on the 21st this December, you find this book a great read. And yes, the likelihood of that isn't happening; You can breathe now. (Though the "friend" I mentioned earlier, named Brian, still thinks it will happen. In the conclusion of the authors: The biggest threat to life on Earth comes, oddly enough, from the only creatures who spend a lot of time worrying about their well-being and also think of themselves as being the most intelligent species in town. I think I made the right decision in cutting off my friendship with him.)

It's not just naming the events, but the authors have provided excellent, scientific facts and history about each of the catastrophes and why they've become a strict concern. Top it with gentle writing and a sense of humor and you've got an outstanding book. In short, you get a coverage of almost every area of science in one book from Biology to Astronomy (included is Further Reading at the back of the book, for any of you looking to extend your knowledge).

Like Geoffrey Gorham stated in his book Philosophy of Science: A Beginner's Guide, especially about posthumanity, "nothing lasts forever." So while we're here, it's existential to seek out and get the most and the best out of whatever we have and whatever we can achieve. Although many will argue it's best not to know, I beg to differ. If you don't know, how will you act upon it if any of these catastrophes, by strange chance, had actually happened? Even if it doesn't, and it won't, it tells you something: live while you can, and always be wary of your surroundings. Those who spend countless hours on why their sports team haven't won a championship, despite the fact that they've given up their identity and soul to their sports team without a care for anyone and/or anything, need to get their lives going. (I've talked about this time and time again, and I apologize. I really despise these people, and I utterly regret being one of them. Thanks to all sports conspiracy theorists for waking me up fast and spreading the truth about these scam-artists running sports; You know who you are.) There's a life to live, there's air to breathe and there's a world outside.

This book not only gave me a sense of understanding about us, life, our planet and our universe, but the book gave me a better sense of confidence on living. I said the same having read about Existentialism, but connect those pieces with these, and you realize that life is fragile. Although, it's not as heart-breaking and horrifying as it seems. We just know what we're facing, and while our time isn't up yet, we must all acquire the things that gives us that eternal desire—the things that make us happy and never ages (some may say it's their sports team but please, be serious as I'm talking about something meaningful in this life).





  • Good writing style without emitting any fear-mongering.
  • Some disasters are very unlikely but are still possible.
  • Includes their own scale—the "Castastrophometer."
  • Not mentioned in the book, but our source of what may end humanity? Our own arrogance.
100% (A+)
Fan Rating
Title Megacatastrophes!

Nine Strange Ways the World Could End
Author(s) David Darling & Dirk Schulze-Makuch
Description Which will get us first? The super-volcano in Yellowstone National Park? An asteroid hurtling through outer space? Black holes from CERN gobbling up the solar system? An army of deranged nanobots? Or - who knows - alien invasion?

Armed with lavish illustrations and their one-of-a-kind "Catastrophometer", Dr David Darling and Dr Dirk Schulze-Makuch introduce all those disasters you never saw coming, unpicking the hardcore science that makes them genuine possibilities, and providing everything from survival tips to danger ratings. So sit back, face the inevitable, and discover the delights of the nine oddest ways the world could end.
Dedication --
ISBN 978-1-85168-905-7
Book Dimensions Width: 5.31″ (5 5/16″)
Height: 8.5″ (8 ½″)
Depth: 0.75″ (¾″)
Page Count 224
Contents Illustrations, Acknowledgements, Introduction, Meet the Catastrophometer, nine (9) chapters, Conclusions, Notes, Further reading, Index
Typeset Jayvee, Trivandrum, India
Cover Design Richard Green
www shepherdstudio co uk
Author Photograph --
Published April 16, 2012
Publisher Oneworld Publications (www.oneworld-publications.com)
Copyright © David Darling and Dirk Schulze-Makuch 2012
Printed / Bound in Denmark by Nørhaven
Book Format Paperback, Kindle
Quoted Reviews "Splendid! Stimulating, entertaining, and scientifically plausible." — Adam Hart-Davis - Bestselling Author and BBC Presenter

"A surprisingly cheerful look at the science of how humanity might meet a messy end, from incurable diseases to exploding stars. Who says reading about the end of the world needs to be grim?" — Chad Orzel - Author of the bestselling How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog

"Fascinating, if somewhat macabre... A fabulous book that got better with every page - I couldn't put it down!" — Debra Fischer - Professor of Astronomy, Yale University

"Understandable, interesting, and entertaining: the perfect excuse to learn science from the atomic to the galactic and from the terrestrial to the extra-terrestrial. Well-written and accessible to any audience...A book specially recommended for those who think that the end of humankind cannot cheer you up." — Alfonso Davila - SETI Institute

"Who needs vampires and zombies for excitement when we live in a world beset by so many real threats to life, limb, and happiness? Delightful ... an authoritative but good-humored look at an array of natural and technological disasters." — Albert A. Harrison - Professor Emeritus of Psychology, University of California, Davis, and author of Starstruck: Cosmic Visions in Science, Religion and Folklore

"Nicely written, thoroughly researched, and highly recommended. Doomsday is already marked in the calender." — Alberto Fairen - NASA Ames Research Center
Best Seller's List --
Other Dr David Darling is an astronomer, freelance science writer, and creator of one of the most popular online encyclopedias of space and astrobiology. He is the author of the bestselling Equations of Eternity.

Dr Dirk Schulze-Makuch is Professor in Astrobiology at Washington State University. His research has been widely published in media ranging from academic journals to The New Scientist.

Together they are authors of the critically-acclaimed We Are Not Alone.
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