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The Sixth Extinction : An Unnatural History
by Elizabeth Kolbert


Overview -

WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE
ONE OF THE "NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW'S" 10 BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR
A "NEW YORK TIMES "BESTSELLER
A NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FINALIST
A major book about the future of the world, blending intellectual and natural history and field reporting into a powerful account of the mass extinction unfolding before our eyes

Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted.  Read more...


 
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More About The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
 
 
 
Overview

WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE
ONE OF THE "NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW'S" 10 BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR
A "NEW YORK TIMES "BESTSELLER
A NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FINALIST
A major book about the future of the world, blending intellectual and natural history and field reporting into a powerful account of the mass extinction unfolding before our eyes

Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In "The Sixth Extinction," two-time winner of the National Magazine Award and "New Yorker" writer Elizabeth Kolbert draws on the work of scores of researchers in half a dozen disciplines, accompanying many of them into the field: geologists who study deep ocean cores, botanists who follow the tree line as it climbs up the Andes, marine biologists who dive off the Great Barrier Reef. She introduces us to a dozen species, some already gone, others facing extinction, including the Panamian golden frog, staghorn coral, the great auk, and the Sumatran rhino. Through these stories, Kolbert provides a moving account of the disappearances occurring all around us and traces the evolution of extinction as concept, from its first articulation by Georges Cuvier in revolutionary Paris up through the present day. The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy; as Kolbert observes, it compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780805092998
  • ISBN-10: 0805092994
  • Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
  • Publish Date: February 2014
  • Page Count: 319


Related Categories

Books > Science > Environmental Science
Books > Science > Natural History
Books > Science > Life Sciences - Biological Diversity

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2013-11-25
  • Reviewer: Staff

New Yorker staff writer Kolbert (Field Notes from a Catastrophe) accomplishes an amazing feat in her latest book, which superbly blends the depressing facts associated with rampant species extinctions and impending ecosystem collapse with stellar writing to produce a text that is accessible, witty, scientifically accurate, and impossible to put down. The eponymous extinction refers to the fact that the current rate of species loss is approaching that of the mass extinctions that ended five previous geologic epochs. Kolbert’s reporting takes her from the Andes to the Great Barrier Reef, and from a bare rock island off the coast of Iceland to a cave near Albany, N.Y. Throughout, she combines a historical perspective with the best modern science on offer, while bringing both scientists and species to life. As dire as our problems are today, Kolbert explains that they did not begin with the industrial revolution: “Though it might be nice to imagine there once was a time when man lived in harmony with nature, it’s not clear that he ever really did.” Kolbert, however, offers some optimism based on the passion the concept of extinction evokes: “Such is the pain the loss of a single species causes that we’re willing to perform ultrasounds on rhinos and handjobs on crows.” (Feb.)

 
BookPage Reviews

A terrifying glimpse of the future

Few writers engage readers in thinking about the meaning of scientific discoveries as well as Elizabeth Kolbert, a staff writer at The New Yorker. Kolbert’s enviable talents, her wit and intelligence, the clarity of her prose, are on full display in The Sixth Extinction, a fascinating and alarming book that examines mass extinctions of life forms, past and present.

The very idea of species extinction is relatively recent. It “finally emerged as a concept, probably not coincidentally, in revolutionary France,” Kolbert writes in an early chapter about the discovery of bones of the American mastodon. Since then, naturalists and scientists have debated the mechanism of mass extinction—do species evolve, so to speak, into extinction, or do they disappear rapidly, catastrophically? (The answer, Kolbert writes with customary wit, is that “as in Tolstoy, every extinction event appears to be unhappy—and fatally so—in its own way.”)

In the first half of her book, Kolbert explores these scientific debates by looking at five previous mass extinctions, times when “conditions change so drastically or so suddenly (or so drastically and so suddenly) that evolutionary history counts for little.” Her strategy here and throughout the book is to focus on an emblematic species—the great auk, for example—and build a layered narrative about each mass extinction event.

In the second half of the book, Kolbert focuses on threatened but not-yet-extinct species to make her most telling point: that humans have become a—perhaps the—force of nature, capable of changing the world “faster than species can adapt.” 

What our massively disruptive power means, we cannot fully know. But, as Kolbert writes at the end of the book, “Among the many lessons that emerge from the geologic record, perhaps the most sobering is that in life, as in mutual funds, past performance is no guarantee of future results.”

The Sixth Extinction is a must-read for anyone concerned in any way, shape or form about the future of life on planet Earth.

 
BAM Customer Reviews