Why do mass extinctions occur? The demise of the dinosaurs has been discussed exhaustively, but has never been out into the context of other extinction events. This is the first systematic review of the mass extinctions of all organisms, plant and animal, terrestrial and marine, that haveoccurred in the history of life. This includes the major crisis 250 million years ago which nearly wiped out all life on Earth. By examining current paleontological, geological, and sedimentological evidence of environmental changes, the cases for explanations based on climate change, marineregressions, asteroid or comet impact, anoxia, and volcanic eruptions are all critically evaluated.