The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

Elizabeth Kolbert, Author
Elizabeth Kolbert. Holt, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-0-8050-9299-8
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-1-250-06218-5
Compact Disc - 978-1-4423-6945-0
Open Ebook - 336 pages - 978-0-8050-9979-9
Book - 978-1-4423-6946-7
Hardcover - 336 pages - 978-1-4088-5122-7
Hardcover - 352 pages - 978-1-4088-5121-0
Hardcover - 336 pages - 978-1-4088-5711-3
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New Yorker staff writer Kolbert (Field Notes from a Catastrophe) 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. The eponymous extinction refers to the fact that the current rate of species loss is approaching that of the mass extinctions that ended five previous geologic epochs. Kolbert’s reporting takes her from the Andes to the Great Barrier Reef, and from a bare rock island off the coast of Iceland to a cave near Albany, N.Y. Throughout, she combines a historical perspective with the best modern science on offer, while bringing both scientists and species to life. As dire as our problems are today, Kolbert explains that they did not begin with the industrial revolution: “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.” Kolbert, however, offers some optimism based on the passion the concept of extinction evokes: “Such is the pain the loss of a single species causes that we’re willing to perform ultrasounds on rhinos and handjobs on crows.” (Feb.)
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