In her Pulitzer Prize–winning book, The Sixth Extinction, New Yorker staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert confronts what may well be the most compelling, portentous, and defining characteristic of our modernity: the nearly inconceivable and irretrievable loss of earth's biodiversity at the hands of our own species. Although earth has endured five mass extinctions over the last half-billion years — during which "the planet has undergone change so wrenching that the diversity of life has plummeted" — we now have the distinct and dubious honor of not only "witnessing one of the rarest events in life's history, [but] also causing it." Incisive, imperative, and full of shrewd reporting, Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction is a most significant and substantial work — one that foresees the calamity of our future and aims to forestall the most ignominious bequest imaginable. Recommended By Jeremy G., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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)
"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
"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"
About the Author
Elizabeth Kolbert is a staff writer at The New Yorker. She is the author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change. She lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts, with her husband and children.