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Ward, Peter D. 1949- (Peter Douglas Ward)

Ward, Peter D. 1949- (Peter Douglas Ward)

PERSONAL:

Born December 5, 1949. Education: McMaster University, Ph.D., 1976.

ADDRESSES:

Office—University of Washington, Department of Earth and Space Sciences, 63 Johnson Hall, P.O. Box 351310, Seattle, WA 98195-1310. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Paleontologist. University of Washington, Seattle, department of earth and space sciences, adjunct professor of geological sciences.

WRITINGS:

(With David J. Bottjer and Carole Jean Stentz Hickman) Mollusks: Notes for a Short Course, University of Tennessee (Knoxville, TN), 1985.

The Natural History of Nautilus, Allen & Unwin (Boston, MA), 1987.

In Search of Nautilus: Three Centuries of Scientific Adventures in the Deep Pacific to Capture a Prehistoric, Living Fossil, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1988.

(Editor, with Virgil L. Sharpton) Global Catastrophes in Earth History: An Interdisciplinary Conference on Impacts, Volcanism, and Mass Mortality, Geological Society of America (Boulder, CO), 1990.

On Methuselah's Trail: Living Fossils and the Great Extinction, illustrations by Linda Krause, W.H. Freeman (New York, NY), 1992.

The End of Evolution: On Mass Extinctions and the Preservation of Biodiversity, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1994.

The Call of Distant Mammoths: Why the Ice Age Mammals Disappeared, Copernicus (New York, NY), 1997.

Time Machines: Scientific Explorations in Deep Time, Copernicus (New York, NY), 1998.

(With Donald Brownlee) Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe, Copernicus (New York, NY), 2000.

Rivers in Time: The Search for Clues to Earth's Mass Extinctions, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Future Evolution, images by Alexis Rockman, foreword by Niles Eldredge, New York Times Books (New York, NY), 2001.

(With Donald Brownlee) The Life and Death of Planet Earth: How the New Science of Astrobiology Charts the Ultimate Fate of Our World, Times Books (New York, NY), 2002.

Gorgon: Paleontology, Obsession, and the Greatest Catastrophe in Earth's History, Viking (New York, NY), 2004.

Life as We Do Not Know It: The NASA Search for (and Synthesis of) Alien Life, Viking (New York, NY), 2005.

Out of Thin Air: Dinosaurs, Birds, and Earth's Ancient Atmosphere, J. Henry Press (Washington, DC), 2006.

Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Mean for Our Future, Smithsonian Books/Collins (New York, NY), 2007.

SIDELIGHTS:

While working, teaching, and publishing in the field of paleontology, Peter D. Ward has written many books that make current scientific discoveries accessible to the general reader. With research interests in analytical geochemistry, astrobiology, and paleontology, he has written about the nautilus and its fossilized relations, extinction theories, the question of whether advanced life forms are likely to exist outside of Earth, and where Earth stands within its life cycle. These works present complex, highly technical material to nonscientists and provide insight into the imaginative and adventurous aspects of scientific research. In some cases, Ward is reporting on the work of others, but often he relates his own work and experiences. Recently his research has focused on the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event and ammonites, as well as on the living cephalopods nautilus and sepia.

Two of Ward's early books are about the nautilus, The Natural History of Nautilus and In Search of Nautilus: Three Centuries of Scientific Adventures in the Deep Pacific to Capture a Prehistoric, Living Fossil. This chambered cephalopod is the only remaining link to the once-numerous fossil nautiloids and ammonoids, and it has mystified investigators for hundreds of years. Because of the creature's deep-sea habitat, longstanding misconceptions about the nautilus were not challenged until the 1960s. Ward's second book on this subject was described in Appraisal as "an enjoyable account of the history, study, and current knowledge of one of Earth's longest lived and most curious creatures." In Booklist, a critic wrote that the information is "absorbingly recounted in an excellent contribution to both single-genus studies and scientific history."

The mass extinction of ammonites is the subject of Ward's On Methuselah's Trail: Living Fossils and the Great Extinction. He questions why the nautilus has survived even though the very similar ammonites disappeared sixty-five million years ago, and determines that the nautilus's history supports Darwinian theory. New Scientist writer Jeff Hecht commented: "Dinosaurs are the rage among the extinct…. Yet … the study of marine invertebrates can yield crucial insights into the larger evolution." Philip Morrison commented in Scientific American that it is also material for an engaging read, calling On Methuselah's Trail "a wonderful small book … lively with reminiscence, gossip, and sharp argument."

Ward treats a perhaps more familiar subject in The Call of Distant Mammoths: Why the Ice Age Mammals Disappeared. Large mammals such as giant ground sloths, saber-toothed tigers, and mammoths were part of a mass extinction 10,000 years ago that the author believes was caused by a catastrophic event. Reviewers approved of his writing style and analytical methods. In Science Books & Films, Donald J. Blakeslee commended the book for "both its writing and … comparative approach." Library Journal reviewer Gloria Maxwell noted that Ward's style is "conversational and dynamic" and that "his facts are stunning." In Publishers Weekly, a writer remarked that Ward "clearly loves his work, and writes about it capably and with passion."

Another of Ward's books focuses on the methods and materials that give paleontologists a view to prehistoric creatures, events, and conditions. Time Machines: Scientific Explorations in Deep Time explains sediment stratigraphy, radioactive and magnetic dating analysis, and biophysical reconstructions, among other technical tools of the trade. Calling the book a "must read," American Scientist writer Tom Paulson commented that Ward is "an excellent storyteller with an insider's license to occasionally poke fun at his own profession." Ted Nield commented in New Scientist that Ward's revelations about how a scientist's imagination can help draw information from a seemingly insignificant bit of rock are "exhilarating."

One of Ward's most widely reviewed books is Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe, in which he and coauthor Robert Brownlee consider the likelihood that there is intelligent extraterrestrial life. This endeavor includes a discussion of recent studies that underscore the complex evolutionary process that has taken place on Earth. It also challenges the idea popularized by late scientist Carl Sagan that our galaxy could hold a million other civilizations. Reviewers found the authors' work to be substantial and persuasive. In Astronomy, Robert Naeye was troubled by "careless factual errors" in the book, but he still found that it "provides a comprehensive overview of current developments in astrobiology and the history of life on Earth." Naeye concluded that the authors "marshal enough valid arguments to cast doubt on Saganesque optimism." A reviewer for Research & Development called the book "an excellent reference work" and "an admirable and timely overview of the latest ideas and works-in-progress." Science reviewer Christopher P. McKay found that "Rare Earth provides a sobering and valuable perspective in just how difficult it might be for complex life and intelligence to arise." And American Scientist writer Tim Tokaryk called it "a stellar example of clear writing on a complex issue."

Ward and Brownlee also worked together on The Life and Death of Planet Earth: How the New Science of Astrobiology Charts the Ultimate Fate of Our World. This work focuses on the likely future of the earth and human race, predicting dramatic changes in land formation and climate, the eventual sterilization of the environment, and later, the loss of the entire planet into a red giant. While contemporary issues are dwarfed by larger forces and a time frame of billions of years, the authors do show human treatment of the planet as speeding this process. Ward and Brownlee succeed in making this information interesting and understandable, according to many reviewers. A Publishers Weekly reviewer judged that the authors "don't make an airtight case" but concluded that "they do deftly bring together findings from many disparate areas of science in a book that science buffs will find hard to put down." Similarly, a Kirkus Reviews writer wrote they "too quickly shift from solid scientific fact to their own extrapolations." But the writer also noted that "anyone who wants to see just how the cards are stacked ought to be reading this." Gilbert Taylor noted in Booklist that the book presents a "compellingly grim scenario" and is "creative but scientifically grounded." Library Journal reviewer Denise Hamilton remarked that the authors "effectively communicate their knowledge and sense of wonder while making the scientific evidence clear to readers of even limited science backgrounds."

In Gorgon: Paleontology, Obsession, and the Greatest Catastrophe in Earth's History, Ward gives readers an inside view into the search for information pertaining to the therapsids, creatures that were part mammal, part reptile and that walked the earth prior to the dinosaurs. During the height of their existence, it is believed they were as plentiful on the planet as human beings are now. Ward spent a decade researching these animals in the Karoo Desert of South Africa, believed to have been the region where they once dwelled, following any clue he could find to help shed light on the lives of the creatures, as well as on the reason for their eventual extinction. Denise Hamilton, reviewing the book for Library Journal, referred to Ward as "a real-life Indiana Jones whose journeys and discoveries are as exciting as they are thought-provoking." A contributor for Science News observed that "the thrill of learning about a mass extinction … is at the heart of this story."

Out of Thin Air: Dinosaurs, Birds, and Earth's Ancient Atmosphere addresses the question of how dinosaurs survived on Earth for so many millions of years. He proposes that during the early development of the planet, the levels of oxygen in the atmosphere would fluctuate regularly, and that these fluctuations played a role in which creatures were able to survive and which of them perished. A contributor for the California Literary Review Web site remarked: "The book is not easy sledding, but it is fascinating and marvelously enlightening about massive changes in terrestrial geography, atmosphere, flora, and fauna throughout time." Fred Bortz, in a review for the Seattle Times Online, commented that "scientists agree that changing oxygen level was a factor in the history of Earth's evolving life, but many will dispute Ward's argument for its primacy. Still, even his scientific critics will appreciate his question and the productive research directions it opens up."

In Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Mean for Our Future, Ward expresses his major fears for the future of the planet should humankind continue to treat the atmosphere and Earth itself in such a cavalier manner. As things stand, many of the planetary conditions in effect are very similar to those seen during the last period of mass extinction, one which strongly resembled the current greenhouse effect that has been developing slowly due to the erosion of the ozone layer, a correlation that does not bode well for the future of the varied species currently roaming the planet—including human beings. Betty Galbraith, in a review for Library Journal, found Ward's book not just a warning against conspicuous consumption, but "a glimpse into the life of a scientist and how he works to collect evidence and fit it into the existing scientific worldview."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

American Scientist, March, 1999, Tom Paulson, review of Time Machines: Scientific Explorations in Deep Time, p. 180; March, 2000, Tim Tokaryk, "Life Issues: Its Origin, Rarity and Sometimes Artful Arrangement," p. 168.

Appraisal, winter-spring, 1989, review of In Search of Nautilus: Three Centuries of Scientific Adventures in the Deep Pacific to Capture a Prehistoric, Living Fossil, pp. 89-90.

Astronomy, August, 2000, Robert Naeye, review of Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe, p. 105.

Booklist, August, 1988, review of In Search of Nautilus, pp. 1874-1875; December 15, 2002, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Life and Death of Planet Earth: How the New Science of Astrobiology Charts the Ultimate Fate of Our World, p. 715.

Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2002, review of The Life and Death of Planet Earth, p. 1683.

Library Journal, April 1, 1997, Gloria Maxwell, review of The Call of Distant Mammoths: Why the Ice Age Mammals Disappeared, p. 119; December, 2002, Denise Hamilton, review of The Life and Death of Planet Earth, p. 170; January, 2004, Denise Hamilton, review of Gorgon: Paleontology, Obsession, and the Greatest Catastrophe in Earth's History, p. 150; April 15, 2007, Betty Galbraith, review of Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Mean for Our Future, p. 115.

New Scientist, February 15, 1992, Jeff Hecht, review of On Methuselah's Trail, p. 56; February 6, 1999, Ted Nield, review of Time Machines, p. 49.

Publishers Weekly, March 17, 1997, review of The Call of Distant Mammoths, p. 71; November 18, 2002, review of The Life and Death of Planet Earth, p. 53.

Research and Development, August, 2000, "Rare Moon," p. 11.

Science, April 28, 2000, Christopher P. McKay, review of Rare Earth, p. 625.

Science Books & Films, November, 1997, Donald J. Blakeslee, review of The Call of Distant Mammoths, p. 237.

Science News, March 20, 2004, review of Gorgon, p. 191.

Scientific American, May, 1992, Philip Morrison, review of On Methuselah's Trail, p. 140.

ONLINE

California Literary Review Online,http://calitreview.com/ (April 14, 2008), review of Out of Thin Air: Dinosaurs, Birds, and Earth's Ancient Atmosphere.

Seattle Times Online,http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/ (April 14, 2008), Fred Bortz, review of Out of Thin Air.

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