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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, but use with web for pictures, 25 Feb 2014
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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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