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The Sixth Extinction: Book summary and reviews of The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

The Sixth Extinction

An Unnatural History

by Elizabeth Kolbert

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert X
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
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Book Summary

Winner of the 2015 Pulitzer for Nonfiction

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.

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Book Awards

  • award image Pulitzer Prize for Letters, Drama and Music, 2015

Reviews

Media Reviews

"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, Donna Seaman

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

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

"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

"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

The information about The Sixth Extinction shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's online-magazine that keeps our members abreast of notable and high-profile books publishing in the coming weeks. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author of this book and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Reader Reviews

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CarolT

Easy to read, yet not easy reading
Well-written and easy to read, yet definitely not easy reading. One of the best environmental books around.

Wendy Ormond

Awesome and sobering.
The media reviews say it better. This was an impressive compilation of data arranged in an easy to read format for the layman. Although not written to be a dramatic doomsday prophecy, the laying down of the facts of current and historical researchers can make the reader dismay that it is really too late to turn back the damage we are doing - full speed ahead!

We have chosen this as one of our environmental book club reads. Perhaps the club will post a review after the meeting

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