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The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History [Hardcover]

Elizabeth Kolbert
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
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Book Description

13 Feb 2014

Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions of life on earth.

Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs.

Elizabeth Kolbert combines brilliant field reporting, the history of ideas and the work of geologists, botanists and marine biologists to tell the gripping stories of a dozen species - including the Panamanian golden frog and the Sumatran rhino - some already gone, others at the point of vanishing.

The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy and Elizabeth Kolbert's book urgently compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (13 Feb 2014)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 1408851210
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408851210
  • Product Dimensions: 24 x 15.8 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 83,147 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

A distinctive and eloquent voice of conscience ... In her timely, meticulously researched and well-written book, Kolbert combines scientific analysis and personal narratives to explain it to us. The result is a clear and comprehensive history of earth's previous mass extinctions ... "People change the world," Kolbert writes, and vividly presents the science and history of the current crisis. Her extensive travels in researching this book, and her insightful treatment of both the history and the science all combine to make The Sixth Extinction an invaluable contribution to our understanding of present circumstances, just as the paradigm shift she calls for is sorely needed (Al Gore, New York Times)

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 A More Perfect Heaven)

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)

Well-composed snapshots of history, theory and observation that will fascinate, enlighten and appal many readers (Guardian)

Compelling ... It is a disquieting tale, related with rigour and restraint by Kolbert (Observer)

Passionate ... This is the big story of our age. We are living through the historically rare elimination of vast numbers of species. And for the first time, it is our fault ... Uplifting prose about the wonders of nature. But the overwhelming message of this book is as clear as that of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in 1962. We humans have become a geological force in our own right - and, unless we act, the consequences will be devastating (Sunday Times)

It is oddly pleasurable to read Elizabeth's Kolbert's new book, which offers a ramble through mass extinctions, present and past ... A wonderful chapter covers the North Atlantic's once-abundant, flightless great auks ... Wisely, Ms Kolbert refuses to end on an optimistic note (Economist)

Kolbert has not only grasped the enormity of what we are unleashing, but can present it in a way that even the average human with a short historical attention span can grasp. Read this book (Peter Forbes, Independent)

Kolbert is a witty, deft writer with an eye for vivid colour. She takes us from sun-blistered desert islands on the Great Barrier Reef to the sopping Peruvian jungle ... Hers is a deadly message, delivered in elegant prose, and we can't afford to ignore it (Philip Hoare, Sunday Telegraph)

a book that can be dipped into or read from cover to cover. (Biologist)

Book Description

A major book about the future of the world, blending natural history, field reporting and the history of ideas and into a powerful account of the mass extinction happening today

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
As a former invertebrate paleobiologist, "The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History" is the book I have been waiting for years to be written. It is a clarion call for ending the current mass extinction that we humans are causing, and a book that should be, according to Scientific American, "this era's galvanizing text", worthy of comparison with Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring". It is also a vastly superior popular science book than last year's "Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction" written by IO9 science editor Annalee Newitz, simply because Elizabeth Kolbert, a staff writer at The New Yorker, has done a superlative job in science reporting, accurately reporting and interpreting work done by some of the most notable researchers of our time studying mass extinctions, whether it is research from Berkeley vertebrate paleobiologist Anthony Barnosky (The lead author of a 2011 Nature paper estimating that current extinction rates are equivalent to those of the five great mass extinctions recognized from the fossil record; the terminal Ordovician, terminal Permian, terminal Triassic and the terminal Cretaceous; the latter in which non-avian dinosaurs became extinct.) or American Museum of Natural History curator of invertebrate paleontology Neil Landman, a noted researcher of Cretaceous ammonites, or evolutionary geneticist and anthropologist Svante Paabo, whose team is sequencing the entire Neanderthal genome and recognized the existence of another late Pleistocene hominid species, the Denisovans, from genomic material in a fragment of a finger bone found in a Siberian cave. Read more ›
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, but use with web for pictures 25 Feb 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a truly significant book for our time and a model for how to write popular science. Kolbert doesn't duck the hard scientific facts, or the sometimes subtle and conflcting nature of the evidence, but she puts the whole thing across in lively, easy to read and often witty prose, with judiciously placed amusing, always relevant, anecdotes to maintain the reader's interest and keep the focus human.

I have only one reservation, and it's not about the author and certainly not about her sparkling writing, nor is it about her scrupulous reporting of the science: no, it's about the book as a production (and I'm writing about the hardback).

I found quite early on that I wanted to go to the web and google images -- to see pictures of the sites she visits where research is going on, the institutions where she interviews researchers, and many, many of the large numbers of animals, plants and trees she discusses. By the time I reached the middle of the book, I was almost using it as a sort of guide or handbook to digging further with the help of search engines.

I realise that to include several pages of colour photographs would have pushed the price of the book so high as to defeat its purpose of getting the information out to as large a number of people as possible, but I do think it's a shame there weren't at least a dozen or so such photographs. I should note that there are several low-resolution black-and-white images scattered throughout, but they're barely adequate, and no match for Kolbert's vivid prose.

I suppose future editions might carry an accompanying CD or DVD without making the publication too expensive. I did find that if I didn't actually see the things the author depicts, I was getting lost in abstractions.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
By Denis Vukosav TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
`The Sixth Extinction' written by Elizabeth Kolbert is an extremely interesting book that talks about the phenomenon of species extinction that we are all well-aware of from the study of history; the only difference being that in this case one who conducts the research is the same one that could be one of its subjects - the human species.

The author in her work used an expert way to merge scientific facts and forecasts for the human future that can be inferred from the natural current and historical indicators; the result is a thrilling book that is quick and easy to read, although its foreboding is sometimes a bit of ominous.

Kolbert decided to divide her book into two parts; in first part she discusses how humans came up with theories of species mass extinction while in second half she is more concerned with the human impact on nature and eco-systems, mostly global warming and increase of ocean acidification, that resulted with large changes and extinction in plant and animal species in the short time which in the lifetime of the planet can be considered a blink of an eye.

What made her book looking serious is the fact that at no time author does not allow scientific quality of her claims to be clouded with politicization - therefore, Kolbert's book is not a political pamphlet nor she had the desire to take reader subtly in one direction. Instead the author delivered a work of investigative journalism in its essence which as much as its topics and conclusions may seem complex, didn't even for a moment went into cheap platitudes.
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