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On Extinction: How We Became Estranged from Nature Hardcover – December 11, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint (December 11, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1619020181
  • ISBN-13: 978-1619020184
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.2 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,131,031 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Award-winning poet Challenger (Galatea) imbues this ambitious meditation with the courage of an explorer, the scientific curiosity of a botanist and a geologist, the excited digging of an archeologist, the compassion of a cultural anthropologist, the long reach of a historian, and the urgent concern of an environmentalist. She travels from a writer's solitary cabin on the Ding Dong Moor, close by the ruins of a tin mine in Cornwall, England, to a journey to Antarctica with the British Antarctic Survey, back to the North Yorkshire town of Whitby, and on to the tundra of the Arctic where the language and culture of the Inuit barely survive. Eventually Challenger comes to rest in a narrowboat on the River Cam in Cambridgeshire. At every stop in her peregrination, she muses on evolutionary changes marked by extinctions past and present. The chief culprit of our estrangement from nature in the 20th century is, for her, the urge to fuse humans and technology. Throughout this beautifully written, moving, and important book, Challenger yearns to find that feeling of belonging to a particular place. Her connection, one comes to feel, is to the past and present of our whole precarious planet. Agent: Jessica Woollard, the Marsh Agency. (Dec.)

From Booklist

An extended essay exploring Challenger’s thoughts about her and humanity’s attitudes toward nature, this work opens with her lament, looking back on growing up near London, over feeling “immured,” without even a favorite flower to call her own. Reflecting on memories of a grandmother’s reaction to the urbanization of the British landscape, Challenger repairs to Cornwall, the first of several journeys that structure her ruminations. Once in place––her subsequent destinations are the British territories of the South Atlantic Ocean and the Canadian Arctic––vestiges of Cornwall’s millennia of tin mining entwine with Challenger’s references to philosophers and naturalists by way of coming to grips with economic activity’s tendencies, as she sees them, to debilitate the environment. The remnants of the whaling industry, in particular, fascinate her and also, by extension, industrialism’s erosion if not extinction of indigenous cultures. With her literary ruminations and search for an endangered flower continuing through an essay-ending boat trip through Cambridgeshire, Challenger offers no certainties but intimates that reconnection with nature is possible, a hopeful posture that should attract readers. --Gilbert Taylor

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By David H. Vonseggern on December 18, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Melanie Challenger's first prose book ("On Extinictions") is a wonderful read. Let me begin by saying what it is not. It is not a strident siren song beckoning action on the issue of species extinctions, not an objective nor a coherently crafted argument for reevaluation of humans' interaction with nature. In comparison with, say, with Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, it is only a soft brush of reality. The subtitle is not effectively described or argued at all. Yet, the author manages to make the point in a remarkably compelling manner, and the overall effect is soul chilling. She treats not just species extinctions, but extinctions of languages, of cultures, of industries, and of livelihoods. She does this by probing deeply into her own past experiences, beginning with her youthful forays in Cornwall, and continuing to her recent excursions to the polar regions. Along with that, she weaves seamlessly into her discourse the observations and thoughts of innumerable past authors, from the ancient Greeks to the writers of recent decades. Clearly the author is well read, and she easily draws on the contributions of others even though she seems to be able to see things with a thousand pairs of eyes herself. The early chapters are narrative, often in a seemingly florid prose which may not appeal to all -- consider, for example: "MIsts moved against the still hedges, slow exhalations of the failing day." But within this, slowly a thesis builds as the author leads us from the fallow pastures of Cornwall through the hulks of the whaling industry in the southern ocean and finally into the native people's lands of far northern Canada. Along the way, we are presented with the parallel between human's extinction of species and of culture and language, even our own in cases.Read more ›
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Stephen W. Arkle on January 25, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Teaching texts that deal with living in the environment over the past years, this one certainly shows what happens when we move too far from nature in the spaces we live. Thoughtful with wonderful analogies and allusions.
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Format: Paperback
There is something haunting about this book. Perhaps it is the unusual but welcome juxtaposition of passages of exquisite prose with more prosaic narratives of the author’s travels. Maybe it is that the theme of extinction is such a somber one. Whatever the reason, it is a rewarding read, and a journey worth taking.
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