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The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  41,153 ratings  ·  4,591 reviews
Over the last half-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.

Hardcover, 336 pages
Published February 11th 2014 by Henry Holt and Co. (Georg von Holtzbrinck)
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Deep Gill The initial chapters that establish our current knowledge through past events, and historical works and discoveries are sourced either in footnotes or…moreThe initial chapters that establish our current knowledge through past events, and historical works and discoveries are sourced either in footnotes or through visits to museums and sites. Later chapters have interviews with people who have either published findings (such as the concept of the K-T extinction, formation of the anthropocene extinction idea) or who are in the middle of the research (at the Great Barrier Reef, in the forests of Brazil). These people share with us their views on what is happening and what will happen in the near future, so even if something described can't be labelled as a fact, it sounds factual and everything seems to be an educated conclusion.(less)
Deep Gill I'm amazed that off of the amount of information that someone could gather in a lifetime during Charles Darwin's era, he managed to come up with such…moreI'm amazed that off of the amount of information that someone could gather in a lifetime during Charles Darwin's era, he managed to come up with such revolutionary ideas at the time that it founded new fields of study and groups like the International Committee on Stratigraphy, which tell us so much about the Earth's history, could build off of. The fact that we can point out fallacies in his theories and fill the gaps of misinformation with new evidence and findings helps show how much further along we have come in the time since.

To me its food for thought, posing the question of what future investigations will reveal as inaccurate.(less)

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Feb 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: blog, non-fiction
Seemed a good time to float this bad mama-jama (spoiler alert: we're screwed):

Looking for a good horror novel that will keep you up late at night? One that features the most remorseless, inventive, and successful serial killer to ever stumble into the written word? One whose body count grows exponentially as his appetite becomes more ravenous, never sated? One who is so adept at killing that he does so without even seeming to try? Well, I have just the ticket: The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth
Emily (Books with Emily Fox)
This is officially the most boring book I've read this year.

There were some interesting moments but they were too few to compensate.
You'll learn more about random rainforest frogs than you ever wanted...

Also I find that while reading some non fiction you have to like the author to a certain extent and I just couldn't here. One moment during the book she writes about how she tried to visit a certain location and asked the lady working at the gift shop to give her a tour. The employee obviously
Riku Sayuj

Dial M for Murder

This is a dark and deeply depressing book, trying hard to be hopeful — on the lines of Douglas Adams' Last Chance to See.

Kolbert's book reminds us that we could be the last couple of generations to witness true diversity, maybe the last to see such magnificent and delicate creatures as the amphibians.

The story of the Sixth Extinction, at least as Kolbert has chosen to tell it, comes in thirteen chapters. Each tracks a species that’s in some way emblematic — the American
Aug 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommended to David by: Preeti
This book is a very engaging examination of extinctions of animal species through the ages. Elizabeth Kolbert adds a wonderfully personal touch to many of the chapters, as she describes her visits to the habitats where various species are dying out. She accompanies scientists and ecologists as they delve into extinctions, past and present. Some biologists are gathering up endangered species, putting them into special reserves and zoo-like habitats where they might be able to survive.

There is no
Helen 2.0
Nov 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-16, non-fic, faves
*hides in apocalypse-safe bunker and cries*

A goosebump-inducing nonfiction read! The Sixth Extinction is told in a part textbook, part narrative style; the author gives readers hard facts mixed into detailed personal accounts of her research trips. In 13 chapters, she tells the stories of several species, some long extinct, some still teetering on the brink of extinction, all with one common enemy - us.

The best part of the book is that Kolbert isn't trying to blame the human race or make her
“When I hear of the destruction of a species I feel just as if all the works of some great writer had perished.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

I don't recall ever reading a book that SO made me want to curl up in a ball on the floor and just SOB.

The book ends with a chapter entitled The Thing With Feathers, which is hope, according to Emily Dickinson. (Or Woody Allen's nephew, if you know that joke.) Yet this chapter contains some of the more dire information, not to mention the most tear-inducing quotes:
Aug 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
"no snow, now ice" by photographer Patty Waymire, National Geographic

Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.
~~Chief Seattle

When I was a child my favorite books were the Golden Nature Guides about insects, birds, sea shells, and so on. I learned many insect names, as well as those of the butterflies and other animals. I
Apr 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book both awed and depressed me.

From page one, Kolbert writes an impressive survey of how destructive mankind has been to the planet. She gives a brief history of the five mass extinctions that have happened, and travels around the world to report on species that are currently going extinct. But the big problem now isn't a giant asteroid -- it's humans. We are such a lethal force that we can unwittingly (or just greedily) wipe out entire species at alarming rates.

There are a lot of good
Better Dead Than Read

In the Book of Genesis, God creates mankind last, as if anticipating the theory of Darwinian evolution. But the text is somewhat ambivalent about his accomplishment. Whereas all his other creations - time, space, light, plants, sentient creatures - are explicitly deemed ‘good,’ human beings are merely lumped in with everything else as God surveys the world. The biblical author seems to be hedging the blessing (mitzvah: both a command and a favour) of human ‘rule’ over
A well balanced tour of apparent causes for five past massive extinctions and for the current epoch of the human-caused “Sixth Extinction”. The relatively sudden acceleration of extinctions has a lot of consensus among scientists as defining a new age, the “Anthropocene”.

The author is a journalist who demonstrates a sound knowledge about how science works and its slow and contentious process of reaching consensus conclusions. She travels around the world to visit scientists and sites that are
Jun 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I've read a lot of non-fiction books that are dry and sometimes gets bogged down in details and others that are very engaging but rather light on the meat. And then sometimes, you get a very cogent work with a very rich sampling of science from all different quarters laid out in such a way that it is impossible to believe anything BUT the final summation.

This is one of those works. We are in the middle of the sixth extinction event on Earth. The final result of the dieoff, as of just how many
Kolbert’s premise, that we are likely in the midst of the Sixth Period of a great extinction in the world’s history, is “a most awful yet interesting” idea, to quote Darwin out of context. Kolbert shares recent (in the past forty years) scientific discoveries, theories, and test results which many of us may not have had a chance to follow with the diligence of a scientist. She is not a scientist but a journalist who has interviewed scientists, and her wonderful easy style makes it simple for us ...more
I shied away from reading this for a while imaging that it would be, nay should be, grimmer than the grim saga of Grim Grimson the grim from Grimsby. But it is not, because the unrelenting grimness of mass extermination occurring now is overshadowed by the relentless bouncyness and vigour of the narrative style, if I was to descend in to crude stereotypes (view spoiler) then I would say that is is ...more
Sep 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the most important science books written in the past five years. Kolbert synthesizes science and history effortlessly here.

I kind of view this as Guns Germs and Steel v2, with the focus on the mess we humans have caused and the lengths scientists are going to in order to both understand and hopefully minimize the damage. Excellent individual chapters on the different species of flora and fauna that we have lost recently or are in the process of losing due to the anthropocene era, that is
Apr 15, 2016 rated it really liked it

In this well-researched book, science writer Elizabeth Kolbert casts a strong light on the damage humans are doing to planet Earth. In one example Kolbert describes declining populations of the golden frog, which is rapidly disappearing from all its native habitats. Turns out humans have inadvertently spread a type of fungus that infects the skin of amphibians and kills them. In another example, almost six million North American bats have (so far) died from a skin infection caused by a different
David Schaafsma
Jul 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nature, environment
“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 Kohlbert

I finally slow listened to this award-winning and depressing book written by a journalist who helps translate for scientists the truth of our current Anthropocene era:

The Anthropocene is a proposed epoch dating from the commencement of significant human impact on Earth's ecosystems including, but not
Science (Fiction) Nerd Mario
Apr 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 0-biology
Ecocides could only be justified with the Madness gene in Prehistoric times

Please note that I put the original German text at the end of this review. Just if you might be interested.

Archaeologists of the future in millions of years would wonder what has happened. How such devastation could be done in such a short time. They compare volcanic eruptions, climate change, meteorites, changes in the earth's magnetic field, solar storms, gamma ray bursts, etc. with the unique event. Or people find the
Feb 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biology
Kolbert makes a compelling case that we are in the throes of a mass extinction citing example after example of our destruction of the environment and its inhabitants. Fortunately she is a gifted writer, so despite the bleak message we don’t just put down this important book in despair. Reporting on scientists investigating threatened species, she identifies the many ways that we are putting all life at risk. Sometimes our unrestrained native instincts are responsible, others the shortsighted and ...more
Dec 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, nature
on the dedication page of her landmark 1962 book, silent spring, rachel carson quoted humanitarian, biocentrist, and nobel peace prize winner albert schweitzer thus, “man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. he will end by destroying the earth.” in the ensuing half century since carson’s watershed work first saw print, evidence aplenty has proven the prescience of schweitzer’s sentiment with distressing rapidity. in a new book as incisive and imperative as the late ms. carson’s, ...more
Mar 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As most will have realized by now, I declared this March nature/science month. Thus, I'm reading (mostly) only non-fiction books. Many of these are about what was originally known as "natural history", which later became several scientific fields. There are a lot of books about this subject, of course, but I decided to finally catch up on the classics (Darwin, Wallace, Humboldt) and take it from there. Humboldt was the father of what we nowadays consider environmentalism and it was therefore ...more
Sep 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, creepy, health
Most depressing book that I've ever read. The physical science of man's injury to Earth began since he emerged as a species, and now is at its zenith. In spite of the evidence, not much is being done to reduce the damage. I felt sicker and sicker as I read on, and I hated picking the book up once I'd put it down. As a species, humanity is self-serving and aggressive. I've watched Trump pooh-pooh climate change, knowing that our oceans are becoming acidic which is going to kill off microscope ...more
Emma Sea
Jul 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
splendid! delightful! holy hell, we are all fucked!
Feb 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: quest
This one should be required reading in highschool. It will teach one more about the world and humanity than The Scarlet Letter or its ilk ever could. It's a book about wonder at the natural world and evolution, and a walk through of why most humans suck at sharing the globe.

My initial reaction:

Then I had a good cry.

Feb 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
“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.” (p235)

I got The Sixth Extinction through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. It was a lucky pick because I hadn’t heard of the book or the author before that, but the subject matter was right up my alley.

This book is about the extinction crisis that’s currently ongoing and that is caused by humans. In Earth’s history, there have been five major
Jan 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Wide ranging exploration of species extinction. The first half of the book covers how we came to understand the history of mass extinction. The second half probes the human role in the current sudden rise in animal and plant extinctions- especially through our role in driving global warming and ocean acidification.

While Kolbert's information here is frightening, her presentation is understated and she studiously avoids politics. This is a work of science journalism, not environmental advocacy.
“Time is the essential ingredient, but in the modern world there is no time.”
- Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction


Probably a more important book than a great book. It seemed to capture some much needed attention to the state of the living world and the impact MAN is having on his environment. Spoiler Alert: Man is the 6th Extinction. We are metaphorical (well, not really metaphorical) asteroid about to undo what it took the Earth millions of years to produce. And, we've been doing it almost

(Full disclosure: book abandoned at page 173 [out of 269 pages].)

This book isn’t bad, and it’s definitely important--everyone should learn about the topic--but Kolbert isn’t an engaging writer, and engaging writing is crucial for such an involved topic. I was deceived because The Sixth Extinction starts out promising and my interest was piqued immediately; however, subsequent chapters go downhill. The first chapters discuss species now extinct, specifically the Panamanian golden
(3.5) Feeling smugly secure about how much you care for animals and the environment, or how low your personal impact is? You won’t be after you read this.
Warming today is taking place at least ten times faster than it did at the end of the last glaciation, and at the end of all those glaciations that preceded it. To keep up, organisms will have to migrate, or otherwise adapt, at least ten times more quickly.

Though it might be nice to imagine there once was a time when man lived in harmony with
Apr 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
There have been very long uneventful stretches and very, very occasionally "revolutions on the surface of the earth." To the extent that we can identify the causes of these revolutions, they're highly varied: glaciation in the case of the ordovician extinction, global warming and chances in chemistry at the end of the Permian, an asteroid impact in the final seconds of the Cretaceous. The current extinction has its own novel cause: not an asteroid or a massive volcanic eruption but "one weedy ...more
Fascinating and disturbing. Looks like, and not surprisingly, mankind will be causing the demise of our own species in the sixth extinction.
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Elizabeth Kolbert is a staff writer at The New Yorker. She is the author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change and The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. She lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts, with her husband and children.
“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.” 83 likes
“A sign in the Hall of Biodiversity offers a quote from the Stanford ecologist Paul Ehrlich: IN PUSHING OTHER SPECIES TO EXTINCTION, HUMANITY IS BUSY SAWING OFF THE LIMB ON WHICH IT PERCHES.” 46 likes
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