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Showing 1-10 of 1,252 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 1,485 reviews
on February 20, 2015
Ah, the good old days: remember cars that got maybe 13 miles per gallon, sci-fi movies about alien things crashing into Earth to be defeated by military know-how, big game hunting safaris with triumphant pictures, whale steaks on the new food menu, cute bleached coral and lacquered fish for home decoration, traveling abroad was exotic - almost a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Sure you do. And if you're still a little wistful for those times, Elizabeth Kolbert's 2014 book, "The Sixth Extinction," is not going to be very satisfying. It may sound like a new cinema offering but it is far, far from it.

"The Sixth Extinction" is a series of personally crafted portraits of life in its many different forms in flux and, in some cases, ceasing to exist - even as we read the author's words. Drawing on her writing experience with "The New Yorker" Magazine, Kolbert blends knowledge, anecdote and eyewitness details to create a sense of authenticity so the reader feels like he or she is part of the experience.

Those seeking more rigorous analysis and exposition should try Scientific American's collections such as the 2014 "Storm Warnings: Climate Change and Extreme Weather" (see my Amazon November 3, 2014 "Whistling in a Warm Wind" review - here's the link: https://www.amazon.com/review/R3NXXCNADBUTUI/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm).

Through thirteen chapters the author presents pictures of various species in crisis, the probable reasons for their present state of emergency and the efforts undertaken to aid and preserve them.

Each chapter has a particular species focal point such as golden tree frogs in Panama, the American mastodon, graptolites in Scotland, coral colonies around Australia's Great Barrier Reef, declining biodiversity in the Amazon, Sumatran rhinos in U.S. zoos and new insights about relationship between Homo Neanderthalensis and Homo Sapiens in Germany.

Interspersed in the initial chapters is the history of the development of various scientific approaches to understanding fossil remains, historical epochs, eras and periods, and the development of evolutionary theory, whether by catastrophe or gradual change (or "long periods of boredom interrupted occasionally by panic").

While still anecdotal, the latter chapters weave some interesting fact-based information, for example:

- Earth has an estimated 50 million habitable acres, of which 27 million have been converted by people for multiple uses such as cities, housing, and pastureland. The remaining 23 million acres are roughly 60% for forests in which various species live and the remaining 40% are mountains, deserts, tundra, etc.
- The various species on Earth are composed of two to seven million for insects, ten thousand for birds and five thousand for mammals, including people.
- Amphibians are the most endangered group followed by reef corals, fresh water mollusks, sharks and rays, mammals and birds.

Along the way, other startling observations emerge: biodiversity is declining not only due to the "old causes" such as hunted to extinction for various reasons but also new ones such as global warming impact on life-sustaining ranges, the loss of habitat space, the inability to regenerate a species due to slower reproduction rate and the rapid vulnerability to new diseases (fungal, bacterial or viral). All of these causes are now achieving a dark and unexpected synergy.

Kolbert is presenting the current conditions as potential for a Sixth Major Extinction of the planet's species. In the prior roughly 500 million years there have been upwards of 25 periods of species extinction, of which five are considered to have been major ones due to breadth and probably rate of surrounding change. Nearly all of these were due to factors beyond the control of the inhabitants at the time: changes in chemical balances, glaciations and global warming due to Earth orbit wobbles, volcanic eruptions and asteroid impact leading to global cooling that killed off many of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

What makes the concern for the next big extinction is that it may be triggered by us - very, very rapidly. At a speed of change far beyond anything that has happened before - be it global warming by burning millions of years of fossil fuels, by eliminating living space on land or in sea for other species, or by sheer carelessness.

Shall we support initiatives for mitigating factors that we can affect such as global warming?

Or shall we fiddle while home burns?
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on August 6, 2017
Elizabeth Kolbert gives us the gift of new awareness with this book. She combines a sense of adventure, thorough research, personal courage, acute observation and good story telling to bring us the story of extinction as we know it today. She speaks to us of worlds gone by along with their plants and animals. She tell us of the amazing (to us now) myths of what people made out of fossils before we knew animals we never dreamed of roamed the earth long before we did. And she brings us to far way exotic places as well as easily accessed practically in your back yard sources of remnants of life gone by.

She introduces us to the people, the incredible scientists and their students, who brave the elements and tolerate the tedium in gathering bits and pieces that are many millions of years old as well as explore vast caves and jungles to observe extinction in action now.

Her conclusions make abundant sense after your read her work. She makes you think. And she may make you reevaluate what you think now.

She's inspired me to watch the documentary, "The Sixth Extinction." I recommend it. And I'm heading back to the Museum of Natural History to see what's available to us now. I haven't been for many years.

Somehow, when I first learned about the really ancient past I took in the information as if it were as permanent as the rocks and fossils described. New bits of information got tagged onto the store of knowledge as it was packed in my brain. But science keeps exploring, delving, discovering. We keep learning. And as we learn we gain a new and sometimes quite different perspective on what we thought we knew before. Kolbert gives us this experience in her marvelous book.

I highly recommend it.

Joanna Poppink, MFT
Los Angeles eating disorder recovery psychotherapist
author of Healing Your Hungry Heart: recovering from your eating disorder
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on June 26, 2015
What science does best over religious beliefs or people pulling theories out of their backside is subject experiments to peer review. You'll never get 100% scientific consensus on anything, but when the peer reviews heavily tilt towards agreeing with certain conclusions, then it's time for us non-scientists to stand up and friggin' pay attention. Ms. Kolbert's 'The Sixth Extinction' highlights key areas which show how humans are quickly driving us towards a mass extinction. Heck, unless you've been living in a cave, there's oodles of evidence in the news on practically a daily basis that shows our planet and wildlife are under enormous stress.

Ms. Kolbert covers the previous five mass extinctions and the evidence showing how they might have occurred. There are about a dozen photos sprinkled throughout the book. (I believe I once dated the Neanderthal holding a pole in one of the photos.) Some of the topics covered in the chapters are the rise of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere as well as causing ocean acidification; the deterioration of our ocean's coral reefs and why they are important; tropical deforestation; and the quickly mounting tally of life forms that are either heading towards extinction or are now extinct. Next to the well-proven theory that a large asteroid killed the dinosaurs, we humans are doing a serious number on all living things including ourselves.

As a parent of two teenage boys, I hate to think what kind of mess they'll live in the not-too-distant future. If you don't give a hoot, still aren't convinced, or actually HOPE for it to come true because you think it will usher in the Second Coming of Christ, then congratulations, you're a myopic, delusional, selfish bonehead. I'm not sure if you could call the book a clarion call to take action, because the damage we've done and continue to do to the planet is immense. Ms. Kolbert has no suggestions on how to reverse or even slow down the demise of so many species. The book is interesting and written for the general layman. Now... if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go crawl into a corner, get into the fetal position, and cry.
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on October 21, 2016
If you are in doubt of the effect that mankind ha son the globe, read this. The author manages to convey the ever-complex topic of natural selection to your backyard. Compelling, detailed, highly credible and well written. That is, until the end.

When touching upon the question if humanity will bring itself down, the author briefly mentions no more than two or three scenario's, in no more than about two pages total. But each option would easily deserve at least several pages, and possibly a chapter, to be in par with the rest of the book. And there are many scenarios out there. Did the author hesitate to face the facts, save material for a next book, or intend to create a cliffhanger for the reader? I do not know, but it was disappointing.

Four stars for an otherwise highly recommended book, hoping that another will come out.
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on August 25, 2017
This book contains interesting stories of people and events involved in the study of extinctions. It is short on scientific detail and will leave anyone wanting a real understanding of the field the task of looking for original studies. I am hoping to find some books that provide much more detail while not dropping into the dry field notes that describe every pebble and seed at a site. If you just want a simple introduction this is a nice place to start.
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on August 7, 2017
Elizabeth Kolbert's writing style brings to life what is happening in the world of carbon emissions and how it affects the environment. She ties together complex scientific data so that the average person can understand the subtle nuances of how life depends on the balance of nature to survive. When that balance is upset by man-made intervention, she explains the chain reactions that occur and what effect that has on the balance of nature. The Sixth Extinction is a very worthwhile read!
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on March 8, 2017
Everything goes extinct. In fact, most extinctions are caused by human actions. But have you ever wondered we can go extinct ourselves? In this book, Scientist Elizabeth Kolbert takes us on a scientific journey that examines and analyzes the theories behind the sixth extinction, the extinction of the human race. Overall, this book is not your typical sci-fi novel. Rather, it is an interesting fact-based book that reveals the truth about the extinction of all mankind.
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on March 30, 2014
She writes about the rate of extinction, which is the number of species that are lost each year. This number went up very fast when people started using stone axes and spears, but only really got going much more recently. On our time scale, the effect of this is to permanently reduce the number of species alive on this Earth. Imagine Noah, randomly shooting the animals on the Ark, stopping only to reload.

Whether one cares about this or not, it is always wise, when making irrevocable moves, to think them through. Kolbert's book gives us the biggest and most accessible view of the picture that I have seen: it is needed, because as far as I can tell no major politician is paying any attention at all to this issue. Noah is not thinking as he pulls the trigger; he is worrying about his campaign contributions.
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on September 21, 2016
Elizabeth has managed to both intrigue and horrify me with her wonderfully written pages on mass extinction. There’s no denying the lessons that emerge from her research. She takes us through countless species that have already gone extinct, most notably: The Panamanian golden frog, the mastodon and the great auk.

She goes into detail about megafauna extinction with causes ranging from global climate change, ocean acidification and asteroid impact – and not to forget the collaborators to the current extinction, human beings.

Following her research one notices that her work was made possible by foundations laid in the past by people like Darwin, the Alvarezes, Lyell, Thomas Kuhn and Alfred Russell Wallace, just to mention a few.

My takeaway quote is from the author herself: “Though it might be nice to imagine there once was a time when man lived in harmony with nature, it’s not clear that he ever really did.”

Elizabeth closes by urging as to focus on what can be done and is being done to save species, rather than to speculate gloomily about a future in which the biosphere is reduced to little plastic vials. She may have made a believer out of me.

I recommend this book to everyone. In the end, service is the rent we have to pay for our lives on earth.
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on March 18, 2016
Absolutely fascinating!!! Elizabeth Kolbert has written a extremely accessible and informative account about evolutionary history and the probable end of humankind's existence sometime in the future. Her account is sobering and useful in promoting a more effective response to our present and future environment. She writes with clarity and focus - a compelling work.
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