cover image Death on Earth: Adventures in Evolution and Mortality

Death on Earth: Adventures in Evolution and Mortality

Jules Howard. Bloomsbury/Sigma, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4729-1507-8

In this frustrating account, British zoologist Howard (Sex on Earth) tackles a mélange of topics that are ostensibly, if very loosely, associated with the concept of death. Rather than probing any of these subjects in depth, Howard spends a great deal of his time reminding readers that he is writing a book about death. Had he opted to focus on the subject rather than the process, he might have produced an engaging work. Howard does address death on multiple levels—including cellular death, organismal death, and species extinction—but he rarely moves beyond the superficial. He also touches far too lightly on evolutionary questions about both death and aging. On the sociological front, he attempts to explore how people discuss death with young children, but his example of a conversation with his three-year-old daughter comes across as trite and simplistic. Some of his anecdotes—viewing the feeding of carrion to red kites in Wales; hunting for the horrid ground-weaver spider in Plymouth, England—are entertaining even though they don’t lead to a meaningful message. The closest Howard comes to a conclusion, philosophically or scientifically, is this banal statement: “Death is the process through which more life is created.” (May)