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The Sixth Extinction

The Sixth Extinction

Written by Elizabeth Kolbert

Narrated by Anne Twomey


The Sixth Extinction

Written by Elizabeth Kolbert

Narrated by Anne Twomey

ratings:
4.5/5 (72 ratings)
Length:
9 hours
Released:
Feb 11, 2014
ISBN:
9781442369467
Format:
Audiobook

Description

WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE
From the author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe, a powerful and important work about the future of the world, blending intellectual and natural history and field reporting into a compelling account of the mass extinction unfolding before our eyes.

Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us.

The Sixth Extinction draws on the work of scores of researchers in half a dozen disciplines-geologists who study deep ocean cores, botanists who follow the tree line as it climbs up the Andes, and marine biologists who dive off the Great Barrier Reef. Elizabeth Kolbert, two-time winner of the National Magazine Award and New Yorker writer, accompanies many of these researchers into the field, and introduces you to a dozen species-some already gone, others facing extinction-that are being affected by the sixth extinction.

Through these stories, Kolbert provides a moving account of the disappearances occurring all around us and traces the evolution of extinction as concept, from its first articulation by Georges Cuvier in revolutionary Paris up through the present day. The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy; as Kolbert observes, it compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.
Released:
Feb 11, 2014
ISBN:
9781442369467
Format:
Audiobook


About the author

Elizabeth Kolbert was a New York Times reporter for fourteen years until she became a staff writer at the New Yorker in 1999. She is the author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe: A Frontline Report on Climate Change and The Sixth Extinction. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and children. @ElizKolbert

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4.3
72 ratings / 65 Reviews
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  • (4/5)
    Kolbert puts our current rate and level of extinction in perspective with our understanding of past mass extinction periods and man's relatively recent awareness of extinction as a concept. Her interactions with researchers and travel commentary are mostly appreciated:"It's only fully modern humans who start this thing of venturing out on the ocean where you don't see land. Part of that is technology, of course; you have to have ships to do it. But there is also some madness there. How many people must have sailed out and vanished on the Pacific before you found Easter Island? It's ridiculous. Why do you do that - is it for the glory, immortality, curiosity? And now we go to Mars. We never stop."She makes a compelling case that man is largely responsible for the current unprecedented rate of extinction and subsequent decline in diversity cautioning we're likely contributing to our own demise. Yet somehow manages to end on a hopeful note - life will persevere, its form just won't be familiar to us.
  • (4/5)
    I found this book very understandable for a lay person. Any uncommon terms were explained. I wish our President would read it.The chapter about coral reefs just about broke my heart.
  • (5/5)
    It's a sad must read.
  • (4/5)
    Fascinating book positing that we are in the midst of another mass extinction by focusing on the causes and evidence of the extinctions of several species both recent and ancient.
  • (4/5)
    There have been five major extinctions. We may be headed (primarily due to humans) toward a 6th. This book is a mix of archaeology, paleontology, geology, anthropology, zoology, biology, history… The author looks at some species that have already gone extinct and others that appear to be heading that way. The book is filled with mastodons and mammoths, dinosaurs, rhinos, bats, neanderthals and humans (though we’re the only ones in this scenario that are expanding!). I quite liked this, but I have to admit (and maybe it’s – at least in part – due to listening to it rather than reading it), I’m afraid I won’t remember most of it before too long. The information was not really surprising to me, but I did find it very interesting while I listened, even if I’m not sure how much I will remember..
  • (4/5)
    Scientists identify five great mass extinctions that have occurred throughout the history of life on Earth. We appear to now be in the middle of the sixth, this one caused by humans: as our species has grown, spread across the planet, and altered its environment, we have been responsible for the disappearance of many species and the decline towards probable future extinction of many, many more, sometimes by direct and deliberate action (hunting to extinction, destruction of habitats for farmland), and sometimes by indirect and inadvertent ones (the increasing acidification of the oceans caused by rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, the accidental or misguided introduction of invasive species to new environments).Elizabeth Kolbert talks about the scientific history of our understanding of mass extinctions, and of the very idea of extinction itself (which was once dismissed as impossible), and about the science behind the current loss of species in a very clear, very readable way. She also takes readers with her as she travels to various places to see endangered species and habitats firsthand, and to talk to biologists who are on the ground studying them.Kolbert never takes a histrionic, hand-wringing tone about the current state of affairs, but rather lets the facts -- and the people who are out there observing the facts -- speak for themselves. What they have to say is depressing, but it is also interesting and important.
  • (4/5)
    30. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbertreader: Anne Twomeypublished: 2014format: digital audiobook (9:59)acquired: from audible, on May 22read: May 23 - Jun 3rating: 4 starsDoesn't the title say it all? It's quite a topic - what we are doing to the world, and what we have done and what we are likely going to do. This mostly wasn't new information to me - but the acidification of the oceans was new. I mean I see the headlines and I know it's a issue, but I didn't understand the nature of it, or make the connection to shells and reefs.What I like about the book is, first of all, that it's getting read. The more people who read this the better. It's good information. Even well informed people don't generally grasp the scope and extent of what we are doing to our planet. She mixes in the dire future predictions, and the uncertainties of these, with lots of interesting historical details on science coming to terms with extinction, and other related topics. She covers in some detail three of the five major extinction events (why only three?) The problem with ocean acidification, in brief, is how it affects animals that secrete shells or any hard carbonate-mineral parts, especially in the common form of aragonite. This stuff dissolves in acid. The extra CO2 in the air leads to more of it getting absorbed into the ocean, and this makes the oceans more acidic. The acidity makes these hard parts more soluble, as in closer to actually dissolving, and therefore they become harder to make and animals make less of them. So, as the acidity increases, our corals start making less exoskeleton and eventually will just stop, meaning our coral reefs will die. We have made the oceans 40% more acidic then they were before the industrial revolution. My one complaint is that the book seems to target our emotions more than I'm comfortable with. It's really a borderline issue - unless you listen on audio. The reader, Twomey, insanely over-dramatizes the book, weakening it the severely. It sounds like a bad psuedo-science show on a coming UFO invasion. (I did listen to sample before I purchased. There was a very passionate and professional reader. Only after I purchased did I learn that the sample was Kolbert herself, reading the prologue. Wish she had read the whole book.)We have all read plenty of everyone-should-read-this-book comments on important nonfiction books, and that does add a bit of discouragement into the encouragement. I hope the later overpowers the former. Everyone should be reading books like this.
  • (4/5)
    It's easy to see why this won a Pulitzer last year. It's informative without being dry, well-researched without being overly academic, and includes fascinating details and convincing arguments. Kolbert combines history, archaeology, anthropology, and science (as well as her own anecdotes and observations) to argue that we are in the midst of the sixth great extinction event, this one caused by humans themselves. It never becomes polemical or political, and Kolbert seems like the kind of person it would be fun to hang out with - smart, funny, and inquisitive. She reads the foreword herself but the rest of the book is narrated by someone else, and I almost wish she'd read the whole thing herself, though the professional narrator was fine. I may end up bumping this one to 4.5 stars - we'll see...
  • (4/5)
    I bought this book for a faculty reading group at my school. It was OK. I found it really discouraging to read so many stories of species gone extinct, so I was hoping for a little optimism in the final chapter. Nope. This book seemed to be written to convince people that there is a massive extinction event occurring right now, but I was already on board with that.
  • (5/5)
    An excellent, understandable overview of the last half billion years surveying the five massive extinctions when diversity of life on earth suddenly contracted as a result of some external force. The point of the book, however, is the sixth (current) extinction and how scientists are tracking it. Of course this time the cause is us. Well written with lots of personal stories, there is also a lot of focus on Cincinnati (and the zoo). If you have any interest at all in ecology or natural history you should read this book.
  • (1/5)
    This book's thesis is that the human experience will pass into eternity because of our faults. She's just not sure when. The author uses every popular environmentalist's examples from the rain forests of the Amazon to small frogs in Central America to prove her point. After awhile, it got boring--here comes another environmental political rant. The book is neither scientific documentation nor popular literature. Either reader would find fault with it--one for too much scientific support and the other with too little. The only bright spot, with some interest for this reader, was the discussion of human interaction with neanderthal. Even that, was sullied by environmental whacko babble in the final chapter. I can't believe that this author was awarded a Pulitzer. This book is poorly written book with little support for the book's thesis.
  • (4/5)
    This book documents the mass extinction that Kolbert (along with quite a few scientists) believes is due to humans. It's not only about hunting animals out of existence. It's about carrying invasive species (including animals, plants and fungus) into new environments. These species are destructive to foreign ecological systems because each system did not develop in parallel with the new species - thus the system did not develop immunity and protection against the invasive species. For instance, our travels around the world transport fungus that have caused plague among bats world-wide, and frogs in the Southern Americas. This book is mainly a scientific endeavor written by a journalist, but we also get to follow Kolbert as she shadows scientists around the world in their quests to study and prevent extinction. At first, this book made me feel guilty for the extinctions that humans have caused. But then I realized that we are a kind of invasive species too. Is it really our fault that we developed minds and then tools capable of carrying us around the world? Had we any idea of the destruction that we would cause? No. We were just doing what any species does - procreate, expand, and diversify. I also feel that Kolbert was catastrophizing a bit in her book. Although humans have certainly caused a lot of damage to our planet, I don't think we are capable of destroying a world that has survived so many other massively destructive events. We are just another blip in the planet's development.
  • (5/5)
    I so appreciate those writers who can write about science in ways that are not only accessible but exciting. And exciting even when it comes to a very serious (grim; tragic) topic such as extinction. Kolbert conveys the passion of people who are committed to learning about life on earth and are thus most able to report on the threats that we are creating. "Right now, in the amazing moment that to us counts as the present, we are deciding, without quite meaning to, which evolutionary pathways will remain open and which will forever be closed. No other creature has ever managed this, and it will, unfortunately, be our most enduring legacy." I cannot capture the breadth or depth of this book with quotes or comments, but if you want a wide-angle picture of this moment "that counts to us as the present," read it!
  • (4/5)
    The content of this book was certainly interesting but I thought the structure of the book was choppy and messy. It jumped from one thing to the next and back again with absolutely no focus.
  • (5/5)
    A well researched and written book about the sixth major period of extinction on earth which is happening now. This is the first one caused by human behavior. The author is not really promoting the hope of stopping the phenomena through environmentalism. The book is more just an in depth explanation about what is happening all across the world since the human species has become dominant with a dramatic downturn in plant and animal species because of interaction with us. It is not coming folks, it is here.
  • (5/5)
    It's not just climate change we need to worry about in our environment. Mankind is changing the face of Earth. Enough change that it is causing of hundreds (thousands!) of other species. The destruction may be massive enough that it shows up as a distinctive band in sedimentary layers.
  • (5/5)
    5 stars. Initial thoughts: I really like the structure of the book and the writer's voice. The book was easy to read and to understand. It kept my attention and had me wanting more. It was deep enough but not dry. I really enjoyed it even though it is the most depressing thing I've read this year...maybe ever.

    Update: Anthropocene has been officially designated as the current period. After a month of reading this book, I am still thinking about it. The part about invasive species has stuck with me the most. It's inevitable given globalization! What to do? Kill 'em rats, I guess.
  • (5/5)
    If you need another reminder that we're bringing about the next apocalypse, this book is for you. It's more than just a harbinger of doom, however. It discusses in detail the natural history of mass extinctions -- there have been 5 until now. It also discusses the theorized causes of those extinctions and how the current mass extinction - the 6th - is being caused by effects of another species (us) and not an extra-terrestrial (meteor) or geological incident. But that's not all! Kolbert also educates us in the history of extinction science itself...once upon a time, the idea that a species would simply cease to be was simply inconceivable. Kolbert is selective with her case studies showcased in this book. She did such a great job I'd like to have read about more examples, even if it would be beating a dead mastodon. While one of the conclusions is that we are probably too far into the climate change and habitat destruction to suddenly curtail the die-off of species through any heroic efforts we might muster, things might not be as bleak as the numbers predict. There will be a lot of species lost when their habitats cease to be, but they will be replaced by a different habitat that might be amenable to other creatures. Of course, that could simply mean that our destiny is the planet will be ruled by giant rats and cockroaches.
  • (4/5)
    This was a very readable account of the history of man's understanding of paleontology and previous extinctions followed by the various threats precipitating the present glut of extinctions.
  • (3/5)
    A very scary report. Makes u want to work or volunteer in environmental protection companies and wants to make u shake people up who don't believe in climate change
  • (4/5)
    I learned many new things and I laughed a few times as well. That's pretty much a win for non-fiction. Humanity's impact on the environment tends to either be presented in a deliberately polarizing manner for political reasons or presented with assumptions of scientific knowledge which most lack. The author did an amazing job of explaining the science behind the impact in layman's terms without omitting details that frequently don't make "news" stories on the topic. She even took the time to explain how mistakes and theory discrepancies happen in science. Even better, she did all of this calmly by presenting facts and logic without resorting to emotional manipulation.I loved the inclusion of small personal notes about the assorted scientists featured. While such asides don't contribute to the main premise of the book, they do make it much more engaging. Between that and her wonderful descriptive style, I found myself able to visualize her experiences and environments with a fullness usually only found in fiction.There are two things which would have greatly enhanced my pleasure in this book. An insert of color photos of the assorted plants and animals discussed would be awesome. I did Google quite a bit while reading this and it would have been preferable to have photos right in the book.Additionally, a chart/timeline depicting the assorted eras and epochs mentioned in chronological order with dates and maybe a few sample organisms listed for each section would have been great. Perhaps with the mass extinctions and suggested range for the anthropocene marked as well? As clear as her explanations were, some information processes better in images than text.Things I think should be changed before the final release:I'm hoping the end notes will be numbered in text with subscript in the final edition.The graph on page 16 is hella blurry.On page 46 at the end of chapter 2, she first mentions that the megafauna extinction is becoming understood as being the result of the spread of modern humans. No specifics are gone into on this until page 230. This left me wary that she was going to start making assertions without any kind of backup in the beginning of the book and I felt a bit weirded out all the way through the book by that hanging thread even when it became clear that she was validating her beliefs with facts. As a reader, it would have been better for that statement to have been omitted in chapter 2 if it wasn't going to be developed for almost 200 pages. At the very least, it should be noted that it will be expanded upon later in the book.Page 86, line 19, the paragraph that starts with "The bolide arrived from the southeast..." I'm assuming that "doe to its trajectory" (later in that paragraph) should read due "to its trajectory."The last sentence on 113 going over to page 114 reads "Change the atmosphere's composition atmosphere..." Is that right? It seems like the second atmosphere is superfluous or at least awkward.I would omit the bit about the gift shop cashier not showing Ms. Kolbert around from page 226. It comes across petty and unflattering to the author. Even if there were no other customers, it's a given in *any* clerking job that you don't leave the shop unattended. You can get fired for that.I received a complimentary copy of this book via a Goodreads giveaway. Many thanks to all involved in providing me with this opportunity.
  • (5/5)
    Excellent. A look at various aspects of extinction. The author focuses on different species in each chapter, as she explains the science, history, and theories of extinction. Some of the subjects she covers are mass extinction events and the catastrophes that can cause them, the history of the science behind our understanding of extinction, current research being done in various parts of the world, the ability of species to adapt to environmental changes, and the impact of human behaviour on other species. I thought the book was interesting and easy to follow, and I learned some things I didn't already know. My only complaints are my usual ones for books written by journalists. The author inserted herself into the narrative rather more than I prefer, and, seriously, science writers, I do not need to know that a researcher has a "boyish face" and I couldn't care less about anybody's footwear. Other than that, I enjoyed her lightly humorous touches and literary allusions.
  • (5/5)
    The case for Victor Frankl's tragic optimism has never been more apt than for this book. The book is really more of a sequel to Kolbert's Field Notes from a Catastrophe about global warming. It's up to us Homo sapiens to decide on how big the Sixth Extinction will be and whether it will includes us. However the window to make a choice is rapidly closing.
  • (4/5)
    Kohlbert is a fine author. She does her research, and writes cleanly and efficiently. She does a nice job of detailing the science and historical progression leading toward the Sixth Extinction. I've read quite a few good books on the science lately, and her work parallels the other works, perhaps with less scientific detail...but perfect for layperson readers. I really have no negative criticism of this book, other than to say that I would have liked to see her develop her view of the future a bit more. Regardless, good job, and worth reading.
  • (4/5)
    Are we in another major extinction, as "earth-shattering" as those caused by a meteorite slamming into the earth? The author gives some very clear examples to assure us that we are. Interesting theory - the large mammals of North America disappeared around the same time that man showed up! Seems we (humans) got an earlier start on extinction than we first thought.
  • (5/5)
    An excellent overview of extinctions from the past compared to extinctions happening now. In the past there have 5 large extinction events, each caused by a variety of potential factors. We are now in the midst of the 6th large extinction event, this one almost entirely human caused. I would like the to say the author provides some hope that we can change our ways and head of this extinction event, but the information shared is this book makes that seem rather unlikely. Sobering and somewhat depressing, but wonderfully written and informative.
  • (5/5)
    Fantastic book - easy to read and very interesting. Scary sometimes and amazing other times! I learned a lot from this book. I can't say just how much I liked this book.
  • (4/5)
    This is the Debbie Downer of science books. If you're looking for something upbeat, positive, or hopeful, go look someplace else. If you're looking for well-researched examples of how we're setting ourselves up, and everything along with us, for shuffling off this mortal coil en masse, bingo. Kolbert gets major props for being on scene for everything that's relevant, to get a good sense of everything for herself, with her own eyes. She isn't a paper-pushing academic, comfortable in a loft, cranking out books. She is THERE. She keeps it real by staying with the overall tone of the book in the final paragraphs. She makes no illusions about the depression that this book is, does not even bother presenting a silver lining. She is the bearer of bad news, and is ready to take the lumps for it.
  • (5/5)
    Choosing a depressing book to read during the coldest week of the coldest winter of the past two decades perhaps was not a good idea, but the latest visit from the polar vortex gave me a good excuse to stay inside to finish Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction.

    Kolbert isn't providing a newsflash; scientists have been telling us for many years that we are living in a period of species extinction not witnessed since the event at the end of the Cretaceous period that wiped out the dinosaurs, which fossil evidence indicates was the fifth time in the planet's history that the diversity of life cataclysmically contracted. Species are disappearing at an alarming and accelerating rate, and this time, the villain is one very successful "weedy" species, an invasive species like no other.

    Even though I consider myself reasonably educated on ecological issues, before reading this book, I had a simplistic notion of the cause of the current species extinction. I believed it to be largely a result of human-induced climate change. But as Kolbert explains, the warming of the planet is merely accelerating a process that started when homo sapiens walked out of Africa some 100,000 years ago.

    The rapidly-unfolding climate change brought about by the burning of fossils fuels is certainly a major factor driving species extinction, as it alters habitat, acidifies the oceans and changes the composition of the air we breathe. But other human activities also have a significant impact, including predation (hunting, poaching), habitat destruction, and global commerce that spreads invasive species.

    Kolbert visits around the globe with scientists in several disciplines to describe their research and, sometimes, their near-hopeless efforts to save a disappearing species. These are interesting and admirable people, but probably not the sort with whom you'd want to spend much time on a gray winter day. Fortunately for Kolbert, most of her field visits occurred in the tropics, so at least that provided some relief to this depressing tale with her descriptions of the wonders and beauties of the endangered species she saw in the Amazon rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. But then, sadly, we are left to mourn for them, and for ourselves.

    Despite the grim subject matter and the apocalyptic title, the author does not take an alarmist stance or issue a rallying cry to humans to mend our ways before it is too late. The tone here is more fatalistic, a sad witness to an inevitability rather than a call to action. Also, Kolbert makes clear that it's the diversity of life rather than life itself that's at stake, and we simply don't know yet whether the loss of diversity may threaten the species that caused it.

    This book is an excellent piece of science journalism, well-written and researched, with an impressive bibliography. I recommend it, but if winter has already depressed you, wait until spring to read this.
  • (4/5)
    I picked this book up on a random stroll through the new non-fiction books at my local library. I had not heard of the book, and frankly was expecting a fairly excited bit of environmental hand-waving. What I got was something completely different.Kolbert brings a clear head and eye to today's world. Looking at the juxtaposition of geologic history and past extinction events, she walks the reader through the whys and ways that we are losing a frightening number of species from the earth, and quickly. Is it global warming and pollution? Well, somewhat. However in many instances extinctions come simply because we have become a more mobile society. A fungus common in some parts of the world and on some amphibians travels with people and agriculture to another area of the world, and tropical frogs disappear. Ocean temperature and oxygenation variations change dramatically the ability of certain animals to survive, of shells to form and stay strong. According to the author, changes caused by mobility, combustion of fossil fuels, pollution, deforestation etc are causing moving the world towards an extinction event similar to the five previous ones in geologic history - at a rate slower than a meteorite hitting the earth but thousands of times faster than geologic change alone, and at a rate too quick for species to evolve.I found her work fascinating and varied, covering a wide variety of ecosystems and events/causes. The New York Times listed this as one of their best books for 2014, and I understand why. Recommended.