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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Clarion Call for Ending the Current Mass Extinction
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...
Published 10 months ago by John Kwok

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2 of 31 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Ignorance
I chose this book for to see anothers point of view on the subject. Even though i gave only two star rating, was not for the book but the true story. I wish we could change our philosophical views on how we are, not only with each other but with the rest of life that fly's on this planet with us round the sun. We have sprayed pesticides over the decades, and wiped out...
Published 8 months ago by terry


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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Clarion Call for Ending the Current Mass Extinction, 13 Feb 2014
By 
John Kwok (New York, NY USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (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. What Kolbert has written is a spellbinding work of science journalism worthy of comparison with David Quammen's "The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions", and one that belongs on the bookshelves of anyone interested in science, and especially those who may not grasp the full extent of the ongoing mass extinction being caused by us, humanity. Moreover, at the end of her book, she provides an extensive bibliography which notes many of the most important relevant scientific papers as well as important texts written by the likes of notable ecologists James H. Brown and Michael Rosenzweig, and paleobiologists Michael Benton, Douglas Erwin and Richard Fortey. Without question, "The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History", may be one of the most discussed, most important, books of popular science published this year.

In her opening chapter, "The Sixth Extinction", in prose that is hauntingly beautiful and poignant, Kolbert cites the disappearance of Panamanian frogs and toads as one emblematic of the ongoing crisis in biodiversity, noting that of all the major groups of terrestrial vertebrates, amphibians are the ones which are most rapidly going extinct before our very eyes. She uses the discoveries of fossil mastodons and mammoths in North America and Europe in the 18th and early 19th Centuries in the second chapter ("The Mastodon's Molars") to introduce readers to the great French naturalist Georges Cuvier who was the first to recognize the existence of extinct species and the likelihood that they died during great cataclysms in Earth's history. Her third chapter, "The Original Penguin", is an especially lucid account of British geologist Charles Lyell's uniformitarian view of Earth's history, and how that inspired Charles Darwin's thinking, not only in geology, but especially, in his conception of the Theory of Evolution via Natural Selection, while describing the rapid extinction of the Great Auk - which was the first bird to be dubbed a "penguin" - in the North Atlantic Ocean along the northernmost coast of North America and Iceland. In the fourth chapter, "The Luck of the Ammonites", she offers an especially lucid account of geologist Walter Alvarez's discovery of the iridium-rich clay at the end of the Cretaceous, leading to the development of the asteroid impact theory for the Cretaceous mass extinction, while also discussing work by such notable invertebrate paleontologists as David Jablonski, David Raup, Jack Sepkoski, and Neil Landman, in noting how the Cretaceous mass extinction that wiped out the non-avian dinosaurs, ammonites and other notable terrestrial and marine organisms, was simply a case of bad luck, which she emphasizes further in describing the probable causes for the terminal Ordovician and terminal Permian mass extinctions (Chapter V).

Kolbert devotes two chapters (Chapters VI and VII) to the ongoing "experiment" humanity is performing on the world's oceans, ocean acidification, caused by an excessive increase in carbon dioxide being dumped into them, and noting that it was a likely cause for several of the mass extinctions known from the fossil record. I must commend her for an excellent discussion of the species-area curve known for decades by ecologists, especially through the important research by E. O. Wilson and his colleague Robert MacArthur in the early 1960s (Chapter VIII), as a means of understanding habitat fragmentation (Chapter IX) as a major contributing factor in determining a species' prospects for survival. There are also excellent discussions on how human activity has fostered the unexpected dispersal of animals and plants, creating, in essence a "New Pangea" (Chapter X), that has only accelerated the tempo of the ongoing mass extinction, and the "Pleistocene Overkill" hypothesis (Chapter XI) proposed by geologist Paul S. Martin that has been confirmed, in spectacular fashion, by palynological (fossilized pollen and spores) data from Australia and North America. She describes the extinction of Neanderthals as another, much earlier, example of human-driven extinction (Chapter XII) relying on the notable research by Svante Paabo and his team, noting the importance of the "Out of Africa" theory in explaining Homo sapiens' global dispersal, while also discussing Paabo's "leaky-replacement" hypothesis that accounts for Neanderthals' eventual replacement by Homo sapiens through interbreeding, resulting in hybrids whose descendants include all non-African populations of humanity, contributing between 1 and 4 percent within the genomes of non-African populations, remnants of the Neanderthal genome. In the concluding chapter (Chapter XIII), Kolbert acknowledges she has been amassing evidence demonstrating why the current mass extinction exists, and warning us that "...we are deciding, without quite meaning to, which evolutionary pathways will remain open and which will forever be closed. No other creature has ever managed this, and it will, unfortunately, be our most enduring legacy."
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Author does not allow scientific quality of her claims to be clouded with politicization, 13 Feb 2014
By 
Denis Vukosav - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (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.

The way author chose to end her book is also very interesting - Kolbert does not want to play the prophet ending her work with some apocalyptic conclusions of what will be of most interest to the readers: What about human destiny? She intuitively leads reader to this issue, but she does not attempt to answer it - it will be left to each individual after closing the last page of her excellent book.

The only thing that slightly spoils the impression of the book is the fact that it lacks a bit more graphic material which would have made it even more pleasant for viewing, and not just for reading - some colorful pictures and history timelines that would show historical periods on which the author discusses skillfully on her pages. However, this is only a very small flaw compared with all the positive, useful and instructive things you will find between its covers which make `The Sixth Extinction' highly recommended for reading.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, but use with web for pictures, 25 Feb 2014
By 
G. B. ROBINSON (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (Hardcover)
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. However talented the written journalism, it's rarely so good as not to be enhanced by good photos.

But please don't let this reservation put you off (I debated with myself as to whether to give the book 4 or 5 stars, and decided that although deduction of 1 star on grounds of insufficient illustration might be justified, it wasn't fair on either the author's achievement or the importance of the subject matter).

You may well find that simply reading the book is enough. But if you're prepared to dig a little, and have easy access to a computer or other device for reaching the web, I really do think you'll get an awful lot more out of this great and timely book.

To name but one of the many websites I could mention, partly because it's one to which Elizabeth Kolbert herself contributes, have a look at Yale Environment 360, and try not to miss Gerrit Vyn's deeply moving 10-minute video on You Tube on the fate of bats in the eastern USA. If you care about the past, the present and the future of our planet, and not least those of ourselves, you'll love this book even as you're disturbed and alarmed by what it has to tell you. You'll get even more out of it, I promise, if you read it in conjunction with frequent trips around the web.

The author travelled the world to get all this stuff on paper. We can't all follow her in that, but we can do the next best thing with the help of cyberspace.

This is a book of which it may be one of those rare occasions when it really is true to say, it will change your life.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Real Conquistadors, 10 May 2014
By 
Taylor McNeil (Arlington, MA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (Hardcover)
There have been five major extinction events in the geologic record, which obliterated most of life, up to 95 percent in one case. Some took a long while; at least one, about 65 million years ago, was quicker, the result of a massive meteor slamming into Earth, sending up clouds of dust that darkened the sky for years. That took care of the dinosaurs, and much else besides.

Now, according to the scientists who Elizabeth Kolbert talks to in her book, The Sixth Extinction, we’re at another end-of-life epoch, called the Anthropocene. The cause? The name hints at it: a hyper-successful invasive species that has spread to every continent, the weed’s weed—human beings, the primate that uses symbols and thus effective communication to take over all it sees.

How is it that we are killing off plant and animal species with such dexterity and speed? Like everything that we do, we do it in myriad ways. We take over other species’ habitats for our homes, farms, and factories, forcing them to migrate to less hospitable locales to which they are ill-adapted. We load the atmosphere with carbon, playing havoc with the weather and speeding acidification of the ocean, while simultaneously decimating fish stocks to the point of extinction. And we’re effectively bringing together continents that had been separate for millions of years, allowing other invasive species to thrive and push out native species of plants and animals. For instance, amphibians are succumbing worldwide to a fungus—chytrid—that has been transported around the world by humans; all those cute, exotic frog and toad species are going extinct now at an alarmingly rapid clip.

That last is one of Kolbert’s main points. Species have always gone extinct; death happens. But it used to be the rate of extinction was slow; change simply did not happen all that fast, except for those five previous major extinction events. But now the rate of extinction is accelerating almost exponentially. What will be left after we’re done? Some hardy species, like us and the Norway rat. In fact, Kolbert gives the rats even better odds than us, which might be good for the rats but not for much else.

To make her points, Kolbert travels to the ends of the Earth, and learns that wherever humans have gone, not much good has come of it, at least for anything besides us. She’s not optimistic—how could she be?—though she does recount heroic efforts to save some down-to-only-a-few-members species. Still, it’s clear that we are in the midst of the sixth major extinction event in the last 500 million years of Earth, with only one cause: us.

Kolbert notes that this extinction epoch did not just start in the last 150 years or so, though it’s clearly accelerated in that time. No, we have left a trail of destruction starting way back. We apparently killed off the likes of mastodons, woolly mammoths and other large fauna more than 10,000 years ago.

We also likely precipitated the demise of our near cousins, the Neanderthals. As she notes near the end of this exceptionally well-written and researched book, “The Neanderthals. lives in Europe for more than 100,000 years and during that period, they had no more impact on their surroundings that any other large vertebrate. There is every reason to believe that if humans had not arrived on the scene, the Neanderthals would still be there, along with the wild horses and woolly rhinos. With the capacity to represent the world in signs and symbols comes the capacity to change it, which, as it happens, is also the capacity to destroy it.”
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars EXCELLENT AND IMPORTANT!, 26 Mar 2014
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This review is from: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (Hardcover)
This extraordinary book is beautifully written and informative.
Elizabeth Kolbert presents a compelling assessment of humanity's role in unraveling the fabric of life on earth.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A book that everyone should read, 2 Jun 2014
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This review is from: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (Hardcover)
We are facing one of the worlds greatest existential events, the Sixth Anthropocene extinction. Faster, deadlier and more powerful that the previous 5 put together....This is not a fictional event, but a result of our our callousness and ignorance....
Read about it and then be prepared to look upon every single living thing you come upon with respect and awe.....
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a book that must be read by everyone!, 5 May 2014
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I don't know whether to feel enlightened or completely depressed. Elizabeth's second book punches home the message that as a species we humans are heading towards an end game pretty rapidly. I'm left wondering what I can do myself. Perhaps if this was on the reading list for all schools our children may be the creators of solutions in the future.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking read, 9 July 2014
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Thought-provoking and consciousness-raising reading. The concepts are clearly explained in an engaging manner with very plausible justifications of why we are indeed in the middle of the 6th extinction.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An important read, 4 May 2014
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This review is from: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (Hardcover)
This is an excellent overview of a compelling and vital subject - the ongoing global biodiversity crisis. A recommended read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Global warming explained for the masses, 12 Aug 2014
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Very interesting and informative book on the impact we are having on the planet. Written in a manner that any lay person can undertand and explains the likely impact of 'global warming' from a neutral point of view.
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The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert (Hardcover - 13 Feb 2014)
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