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The Sixth Extinction: Patterns of Life and the Future of Humankind Paperback – October 1, 1996

ISBN-13: 978-0385468091 ISBN-10: 0385468091 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (October 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385468091
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385468091
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #560,884 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Claiming that humanity is on the verge of causing a massive extinction of other species, the authors argue for a drastic change in the ways in which we impact on the environment.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Paleoanthropologist Leakey and coauthor Lewin (Origins Reconsidered, LJ 9/1/92) examine biology's traditional viewpoints, which maintain a linear progression from simple to complex species development. In this scenario, survival of the fittest means success, and species extinction indicates failure. The authors also present the current trends in evolutionary science theory suggesting that the world is shaped by mass extinctions (natural catastrophes have caused five) instead of natural selection and that the shape and behavior of biological communities is driven by chaotic interaction rather than the simplistic balance-of-nature concept. Leakey and Lewin argue that Homo sapiens is the result of many chance events in evolution rather than the foreordained culmination of evolutionary excellence. Unfortunately, our self-awareness and mental capacity has given us the dubious capability of triggering a sixth extinction, destroying entire species through overhunting and habitat destruction. As the only sentient creature among animals, we have the duty to protect all of Earth's species. The authors present a powerful message based on years of observation and fieldwork. Highly recommended for all collections.?Gloria Maxwell, Kansas Cty. P.L., Kan.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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What a great man and role model!
Redgecko
Leakey shows how evolutionary biology and ecology have helped us understand important new facts - the extreme intricacies of ecosystems for example.
Amazon Customer
This is a book dense with facts, observations, (though often reverting to science-speak), but refreshingly free of cant and finger pointing.
EternalSeeker

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 38 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 3, 1997
Format: Paperback
This 1995 book by Leakey and Lewin, although very well written, ultimately proved to be somewhat of a disappointment to me. It is not that I disagree with any particular thesis in the book, as much as that I've read it all elsewhere. Those well read in Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins, or David Raup will find nothing new here; which is not to say that the message does not bear repeating to the world.

Leakey and Lewin observe that the current worldwide extinction rate of species equals that of various Mass Extinctions of geologic history. Their point is that we are experiencing, and will continue to experience a loss of bio-diversity that will have profound consequences for humanity. In order to establish this thesis, they give a brief review of the history of life on this planet, the rise of Darwinism, Uniformitarianism, and now Neo-Catastrophism. The extent and nature of past Mass Extinctions are examined, along with various theories as to their cause. They continue with a discussion on ecology and the current loss of species, bio-diversity, etc. Through the bulk of this book are scattered frequent refernces to the thinking of various authors, pro and con. One gets the creepy sensation that one is reading a college book report.

The sole chapter of original contribution by Leakey himself (i.e. not a paraphrase of what he has read elsewhere) is that of today's plight of the modern elephant. While not a matter of pressing concern to the average person, it is symptomatic of the problem at large which is (or should be!) of concern to us all.

This book thus serves as a compilation of alarm messages sounded by many others, and as such ought to serve a useful function.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on April 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is not a parting that man would ever wish. In fact, we could never utter these words; if the reality of the the demise of biodiversity were to occur, we would also be gone. The extirpation of mankind. Biological diversity is simply the wealth of the world's organisms - inclusive of genes, species, ecosystems - the web of life which supports us. Leakey shows how evolutionary biology and ecology have helped us understand important new facts - the extreme intricacies of ecosystems for example. Ironically, new knowledge coming at the same time that the rate of man made change on these systems is accelerating. Leakey argues that perhaps as much as 50% of known species will be driven to extinction within the next few decades. This is the sobering message of the book; we are headed towards an abrupt and massive loss of plants and animal life - the 'sixth extinction' of the books title. Leakey traces five previous 'extinction pulses' due to factors such as climatic change and asteroid impact; this one will be our doing.
A final note of interest for those who may wish to know the epistemology of the book. Leakey and co-author Roger Lewin are supporters of the concept of 'punctuated equilibrium' - a theory that sees evolution progressing in ways other than as a steady, linear process. An idea first espoused by paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. Gould and supporters of his theory have their critics, a notable one being Edward O Wilson. Academic rivalry and ideological disputes aside, there is no disagreement on the importance of biodersity and the source of the threat to it.
"Virtually all students of the extinction process agree that biological diversity is in the midst of it's sixth great crisis, this time precipitated entirely by man" (E.O.Wilson)
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Redgecko on August 11, 2009
Format: Paperback
Not wanting to taint my impressions as I read, I purposely avoided reading reviews of this book until I had finished. When I finally did read the reviews, I was very disappointed that no reviews of this interesting book had been posted for almost 2 years. What a shame. Richard Leakey is one of the world's most famous living scientists and led an amazing life. He gives just a hint of that life in the first chapter and you can read more on Wikipedia and news sources. I have even more respect for Leakey now then before I started the book, if for no other reason than he gives no indication of the substantial personal and political turmoil that he has endured but sticks to the job of discussing anthropogenic species extinction. The man lost both of his legs in a small plane crash in 1993 and sabotage was suspected due to his firm stand against elephant poaching as head of Kenya's Wildlife Conservation and Management Department But he never mentions this or uses his fame to demean his detractors. He just goes on with his career as a paleontologist, conservationist and politician, never whining about his fate. What a great man and role model!

Now, about the book. It is dated in some ways, as any book about conservation written 15 years ago will be, but the core of the book remains accurate and true--unfortunately things haven't changed much in that time. Amazon and a couple of reviewers have written decent overviews of the book and I see no need to summarize the book in detail but will make a few observations.

It is interesting to note that in 1995, the three major causes for species extinction were (1) hunting, trapping and other forms of direct, purposeful human exploitation; (2) the impact of invasive species, e.g.
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