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The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History Hardcover – February 11, 2014

ISBN-13: 978-0805092998 ISBN-10: 0805092994 Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (February 11, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805092994
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805092998
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (538 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,740 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* It didn’t take long for Homo sapiens to begin “reassembling the biosphere,” observes Kolbert, a Heinz Award–winning New Yorker staff writer and author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change (2006). By burning fossil fuels, we are rapidly changing the atmosphere, the oceans, and the climate, forcing potentially millions of species into extinction. Five watershed events in the deep past decimated life on earth, hence the designation “Sixth Extinction” for today’s ­human-propelled crisis. To lay the groundwork for understanding this massive die-off, Kolbert crisply tells the stories of such earlier losses as the American mastodon and the great auk and provides an orienting overview of evolutionary and ecological science. She then chronicles her adventures in the field with biologists, botanists, and geologists investigating the threats against amphibians, bats, coral, and rhinos. Intrepid and astute, Kolbert combines vivid, informed, and awestruck descriptions of natural wonders, from rain forests to the Great Barrier Reef, and wryly amusing tales about such dicey situations as nearly grabbing onto a tree branch harboring a fist-sized tarantula, swimming among poisonous jellyfish, and venturing into a bat cave; each dispatch is laced with running explanations of urgent scientific inquiries and disquieting findings. Rendered with rare, resolute, and resounding clarity, Kolbert’s compelling and enlightening report forthrightly addresses the most significant topic of our lives. --Donna Seaman

Review

"Fascinating."—USA Today

"[An] excellent new book…The Sixth Extinction is the kind of book that helps us recognize the actual planet we live upon." —New York Review of Books

"Surprisingly breezy, entirely engrossing, and frequently entertaining... Kolbert is a masterful, thought-provoking reporter." —The Boston Globe

"Thorough and fascinating . . . Kolbert is an economical and deft explainer of the technical, and about as intrepid a reporter as they come . . . Her reporting is meticulous." —Harper’s

"Riveting… It is not possible to overstate the importance of Kolbert’s book. Her prose is lucid, accessible and even entertaining as she reveals the dark theater playing out on our globe."—San Francisco Chronicle

"A fascinating and frightening excursion… Kolbert presents powerful cases to bring her point home."—The Washington Post

"Your view of the world will be fundamentally changed… Kolbert is an astute observer, excellent explainer and superb synthesizer, and even manages to find humor in her subject matter." —The Seattle Times

"What's exceptional about Kolbert's writing is the combination of scientific rigor and wry humor that keeps you turning the pages." —National Geographic

"Beautifully written. An excellent book." —Jon Stewart, The Daily Show

"[Kolbert] makes a page-turner out of even the most sober and scientifically demanding aspects of extinction. Combining a lucid, steady, understated style with some enviable reporting adventures… she produces a book that is both serious-minded and invites exclamation points into its margins." —New York Magazine

"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

"Arresting . . . Ms. Kolbert shows in these pages that she can write with elegiac poetry about the vanishing creatures of this planet, but the real power of her book resides in the hard science and historical context she delivers here, documenting the mounting losses that human beings are leaving in their wake." —The New York Times

"[Kolbert] grounds her stories in rigorous science and memorable characters past and present, building a case that a mass extinction is underway, whether we want to admit it or not." —Discover Magazine

"Throughout her extensive and passionately collected research, Kolbert offers a highly readable, enlightening report on the global and historical impact of humans... a highly significant eye-opener rich in facts and enjoyment." —Kirkus (starred 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

"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)

"Solid [and] engaging."  —Library Journal (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

"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

"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

"Elizabeth Kolbert's cautionary tale, The Sixth Extinction, offers us a cogent overview of a harrowing biological challenge. The reporting is exceptional, the contextualizing exemplary. Kolbert stands at the forefront of what it means to be a socially responsible American writer today."—Barry Lopez, author of Arctic Dreams  

"The sixth mass extinction is the biggest story on Earth, period, and Elizabeth Kolbert tells it with imagination, rigor, deep reporting, and a capacious curiosity about all the wondrous creatures and ecosystems that exist, or have existed, on our planet. The result is an important book full of love and loss." —David Quammen, author of The Song of the Dodo and Spillover

"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

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Customer Reviews

This is a very well researched and written book.
Claude Fletcher
This is a book that everyone can and should read to understand both the past and where things are going now.
Lisa
Really is scary how one species (the human race) can undo so much good on this planet.
Harihep23

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

262 of 288 people found the following review helpful By John Kwok HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on February 1, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As a former invertebrate paleobiologist, "The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History" is the book I have been waiting for years to be written. It is a clarion call for ending the current mass extinction that we humans are causing, and a book that should be, according to Scientific American, "this era's galvanizing text", worthy of comparison with Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring". It is also a vastly superior popular science book than last year's "Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction" written by IO9 science editor Annalee Newitz, simply because Elizabeth Kolbert, a staff writer at The New Yorker, has done a superlative job in science reporting, accurately reporting and interpreting work done by some of the most notable researchers of our time studying mass extinctions, whether it is research from Berkeley vertebrate paleobiologist Anthony Barnosky (The lead author of a 2011 Nature paper estimating that current extinction rates are equivalent to those of the five great mass extinctions recognized from the fossil record; the terminal Ordovician, terminal Permian, terminal Triassic and the terminal Cretaceous; the latter in which non-avian dinosaurs became extinct.) or American Museum of Natural History curator of invertebrate paleontology Neil Landman, a noted researcher of Cretaceous ammonites, or evolutionary geneticist and anthropologist Svante Paabo, whose team is sequencing the entire Neanderthal genome and recognized the existence of another late Pleistocene hominid species, the Denisovans, from genomic material in a fragment of a finger bone found in a Siberian cave.Read more ›
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135 of 151 people found the following review helpful By Frederick S. Goethel VINE VOICE on February 9, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
From the title of this book, it would be easy to imagine that it was another science writer creating a book about climate change and attributing our future to that singular event. On the contrary, Elizabeth Kolbert has shown, through a number of examples, how we are destroying our environment and possible ourselves in the process.

Kolbert begins by going through the past five extinctions and explaining what is known of them and how they came about, as well as what organisms were present during each of them that eventually were wiped out. She then travels around the world to look at a number of ways in which we humans are causing the death and destruction of our current environment. That ranges from acidification of the oceans from excessive carbon dioxide levels to clear cutting of forests and to our unwitting transfer of invasive species around the globe on a regular and frequent basis.

This book is a wakeup call for all humans. In one way or another, we are all working to end the existence of numerous species and possibly our own. We may possibly be too smart for our own good. A quote from near the end of the book is certainly a message that is cause for us all to ponder! " If you want to think about why humans are so dangerous to other species, you can picture a poacher in Africa carrying an AK-47 or a logger in the Amazon gripping an ax, or, better still, you can picture yourself, holding a book on your lap."

Kolbert writes with the non-scientific individual in mind and makes even the most difficult subjects easy to understand. As I said above, we are looking in a mirror and failing to see the destruction we are creating. Kolbert makes us look at that image. This book is fascinating and thought provoking and very much well worth the price!
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103 of 118 people found the following review helpful By John C. Wiegard VINE VOICE on February 2, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Elizabeth Kolbert's globe-trotting effort to probe the concept of Extinction covers all the angles. In the first half of her book she explains the complex process by which scientists such as Lyell and Cuvier pieced together an understanding that large extinction events have occurred several times in our planet's history. The most notable of these was the case of the Yucatan meteor strike that wiped out the dinosaurs, an amazing episode of mass-extinction that has only been understood over the past thirty years. In the second half, she branches out into the anthrocene era, with the terrifying prospect of ocean acidification, alien species introductions, and the gradual isolation and disappearance of tropical plants. Kolbert's perspectives reveal that humans have driven extinctions not just today, and not just with the nineteenth century eradication of the Great Auk, but back to the end of the ice age with our hunting of the Mastodons and Giant Sloths. For Kolbert, it does not mean that humans are inherently vicious- but it does mean that our drive to change our environment to suit our needs is a dangerous drive- because it risks sawing off the branch on which we are perched.

Kolbert is studiously non-political in this effort, which may frustrate environmentalist readers seeking a red-meat endorsement of change in human society. But her thoughtful and wide ranging analysis is extremely informative on a topic that is not well understood by all. A careful reading will leave the reader disturbed and frightened, despite her matter-of-fact tone.
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