- Hardcover: 319 pages
- Publisher: Henry Holt & Co (11 February 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0805092994
- ISBN-13: 978-0805092998
- Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 2.8 x 24.5 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 544 g
- Average Customer Review: 15 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 48,458 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History Hardcover – 11 Feb 2014
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[The Sixth Extinction] is a wonderful book, and it makes very clear that big, abrupt changes can happen; they're not outside the realm of possibility. They have happened before, they can happen again. --President Barack Obama
"Fascinating." --USA Today
"[An] excellent new book...The Sixth Extinction is the kind of book that helps us recognize the actual planet we live upon." --New York Review of Books
"Surprisingly breezy, entirely engrossing, and frequently entertaining... Kolbert is a masterful, thought-provoking reporter." --The Boston Globe
"Thorough and fascinating . . . Kolbert is an economical and deft explainer of the technical, and about as intrepid a reporter as they come . . . Her reporting is meticulous." --Harper's
"Riveting... It is not possible to overstate the importance of Kolbert's book. Her prose is lucid, accessible and even entertaining as she reveals the dark theater playing out on our globe." --San Francisco Chronicle
"A fascinating and frightening excursion... Kolbert presents powerful cases to bring her point home." --The Washington Post
"Your view of the world will be fundamentally changed... Kolbert is an astute observer, excellent explainer and superb synthesizer, and even manages to find humor in her subject matter." --The Seattle Times
"What's exceptional about Kolbert's writing is the combination of scientific rigor and wry humor that keeps you turning the pages." --National Geographic
"Beautifully written. An excellent book." --Jon Stewart, The Daily Show
"[Kolbert] makes a page-turner out of even the most sober and scientifically demanding aspects of extinction. Combining a lucid, steady, understated style with some enviable reporting adventures... she produces a book that is both serious-minded and invites exclamation points into its margins." --New York Magazine
"Powerful . . . Kolbert expertly traces the 'twisting' intellectual history of how we've come to understand the concept of extinction, and more recently, how we've come to recognize our role in it. . . An invaluable contribution to our understanding of present circumstances." --Al Gore, The New York Times Book Review
"Arresting . . . Ms. Kolbert shows in these pages that she can write with elegiac poetry about the vanishing creatures of this planet, but the real power of her book resides in the hard science and historical context she delivers here, documenting the mounting losses that human beings are leaving in their wake." --The New York Times
"[Kolbert] grounds her stories in rigorous science and memorable characters past and present, building a case that a mass extinction is underway, whether we want to admit it or not." --Discover Magazine
"Throughout her extensive and passionately collected research, Kolbert offers a highly readable, enlightening report on the global and historical impact of humans... a highly significant eye-opener rich in facts and enjoyment." --Kirkus (starred review)
"The factoids Kolbert tosses off about nature's incredible variety--a frog that carries eggs in its stomach and gives birth through its mouth, a wood stork that cools off by defecating on its own legs--makes it heartbreakingly clear, without any heavy-handed sermonizing from the author, just how much we lose when an animal goes extinct. In the same way, her intrepid reporting from far-off places--Panama, Iceland, Italy, Scotland, Peru, the Amazonian rain forest of Brazil, and the remote one tree Island, off the coast of Australia--gives us a sense of the earth's vastness and beauty." --Bookforum
"Kolbert 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." --Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Rendered with rare, resolute, and resounding clarity, Kolbert's compelling and enlightening report forthrightly addresses the most significant topic of our lives." --Booklist (starred review)
"Solid [and] engaging." --Library Journal (starred review)
"An epic, riveting story of our species that reads like a scientific thriller--only more terrifying because it is real. Like Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction is destined to become one of the most important and defining books of our time." --David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z
"I tore through Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction with a mix of awe and terror. Her long view of extinction excited my joy in life's diversity -- even as she made me aware how many species are currently at risk." --Dava Sobel, author of Longitude and Galileo's Daughter
"With her usual lucid and lovely prose, Elizabeth Kolbert lays out the sad and gripping facts of our moment on earth: that we've become a geological force, driving vast swaths of creation over the brink. A remarkable addition to the literature of our haunted epoch." --Bill McKibben, author Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist
"Elizabeth Kolbert's cautionary tale, The Sixth Extinction, offers us a cogent overview of a harrowing biological challenge. The reporting is exceptional, the contextualizing exemplary. Kolbert stands at the forefront of what it means to be a socially responsible American writer today." --Barry Lopez, author of Arctic Dreams
"The sixth mass extinction is the biggest story on Earth, period, and Elizabeth Kolbert tells it with imagination, rigor, deep reporting, and a capacious curiosity about all the wondrous creatures and ecosystems that exist, or have existed, on our planet. The result is an important book full of love and loss." --David Quammen, author of The Song of the Dodo and Spillover
"Elizabeth Kolbert writes with an aching beauty of the impact of our species on all the other forms of life known in this cold universe. The perspective is at once awe-inspiring, humbling and deeply necessary." --T.C. Boyle, author of San Miguel
About the Author
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There are really two threads interleaved through this book.
The first is a discussion of the past five mass extinction events: how we learned about them, what we know (or guess) about their cause, and what the results were.
The second is a discussion of (mostly) human caused extinctions in the recent past, and current threats.
How we have subverted the "natural order" to stay alive and to spread round the world, and some of the consequences (mostly unintended) of our resource hunger and need to control and shape the world.
It comments on the curious fact (probably not coincidental) that we only started to learn the full magnitude of past extinction events as we set up a present one. Without global travel we might never have known the full diversity of life and how much geographical isolation was responsible for it. But that same global travel completely undermines that geographical isolation and changes the balance of species. We are picking the winners and losers: sometimes deliberately, but often accidentally.
One of the most important things I took from the book was the reminder that the traits that make an animal successful don't guarantee that that animal will stay successful. There are times when the rules change. Faced with the unexpected, those successful characteristics could even become fatal. This has been shown in past mass extinction events (most famously the dinosaurs), and more recently when humanity came to the party and drove mammoths, mastodons, and our own Australian mega-fauna to extinction. It is shown in the present as more species slide to endangered and then "presumed extinct". And it is true for humanity, as well. We have been spectacularly successful, and now cover the globe and dominate it. But that is no guarantee that we will continue to be successful.
Finally, an interesting reminder: mammals were around when the dinosaurs ruled, but really only got their chance when the dinosaurs were wiped out in the last mass extinction. That has resulted in much of the biodiversity we see around us, including us. If we fall, in a mass extinction event of our own making, what new species will emerge? How will the world look? Among other things, this book suggests that the adaptability and global spread of rats could put them in a good position to diversify, grow in size, and ultimately perhaps develop intelligence and take over.
It is not a history that any of us will see (none of us can really expect to see the extinction of humanity), but it is interesting to think about.
What would highly intelligent giant rats look like?
The real tragedy is that the social behaviours that have allowed us to succeed are now blocking change that could prevent the environmental collapse that is coming. But this is what evolution is about - if we, as a species cannot change environmental change will reduce our population, perhaps catastrophically.
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