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Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  490 ratings  ·  81 reviews
Human activity has irreversibly changed the natural environment. But the news isn't all bad.

It's accepted wisdom today that human beings have permanently damaged the natural world, causing extinction, deforestation, pollution, and of course climate change. But in Inheritors of the Earth, biologist Chris Thomas shows that this obscures a more hopeful truth - we're also help
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published September 5th 2017 by PublicAffairs
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Peter Tillman
Sep 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An important book. Dr. Thomas writes well, and is good at skewering the illogical "certainties" of certain conservation activists. He points out that all is not gloom and doom. Life is flexible, and successful species, well, *succeed*. Humans have profoundly altered ecosystems for at least the past 10,000 years. These changes are irreversible, but there are upsides. Such as civilization and science. And more (but different) biological diversity, with human aid.

Thomas demonstrates how rapidly evo
Dec 18, 2017 rated it liked it
An interesting read - definitely worth reading for anyone interested in conservation. However, I don't agree with much of it, and I do think it risks undermining conservation efforts.

Firstly, part of Chris' argument is that alien species rarely cause local species to go extinct, and so in general the arrival of alien species increases local species richness and is therefore A Good Thing. While the first part of this is technically correct, I don't think it's a helpful thing to say. Local species
Bob Mayer
Apr 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
An interesting take on how nature persists in the face of human degradation. I do find it fascinating how quickly the Chernobyl area has thrived. Also, I've come across enough human ruins in the middle of wilderness to know that once the man is gone, nature rules. ...more
I want to thank the author, the publisher, and NetGalley for providing me a free copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Another great book on the expanded view of the so-called "sixth extinction", in the vain of The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth's Past Mass Extinctions that I read earlier this year. I appreciate its clear-headed approach to understanding human impact on the modern ecosystem without the usual hyst
74th book for 2018.

This fascinating book explores what Nature really means in the Anthropocene.

Thomas argues that environmentalists need get beyond the idea of purity and think of dynamic ecosystems where creatures are constantly on the move, with some flourishing and others dying. Where hybridization and new mutations allow new species to evolve far faster than we are used to to take advantage of constantly changing environments. Not all species invasion is bad in Thomas's view. In fact it can
Feb 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Not an easy read. Sometimes it is wordy and the transitions wide which I think is a mistake in non-fiction as the narrower the focus the better. BUT, and this is the larger exception to that stricture- because this holds a wide subject matter re "ages of extinction" at its core, it's appropriate.

Common sense and practical applications examples of scientific observation reign. That's highly unusual because so much "consensus" now seems to arrive from a place of "we think" that should NEVER be a s
jrendocrine ?u get guns-we get forced pregnancy??
The author, Chris Thomas, is a highly awarded conservation biologist, and it shows in his writing. There is a lot of detail about places and animals and plants that just goes zip zip zip, (had to skim a little) because so many examples as data for his conclusion.

The conclusion is worthwhile and in contrast to much common parlance surrounding biodiversity:
1. Despite species loss (which is natural since the beginning of time) there is more gain than loss. Species are on the move, finding new ways
Sep 14, 2018 rated it did not like it
This book is thoroughly anthropocentric as it embraces techno-optimism, where human actions sends perhaps more than half of terrestrial species extinct by the end of the century and enslaves billions of animals in intensive food production system. The great moral wrong of extinction (Cafaro & Primack 2014) is not recognized.
I found this a fascinating book, and one that has led me to reconsider some of my own attitudes. Any book that has that effect deserves a high rating.

Author Chris Thomas argues that environmentalists tend to focus exclusively on the negative side of any changes to the natural world brought about directly or indirectly by humans, such as the importation of new species or the creation of hybrid species. By contrast, his own view is that such developments produce gains as well as losses, and that i
Stephen Hiltner
Mar 10, 2018 rated it did not like it
Thomas claims to be an optimist, but the book's prologue is extraordinarily pessimistic about any intentional action to spare nature the worst of our abuses. Check out this stirring call to inaction: "There is no point in taking on a never-ending fight with the inevitability of eventual failure." Think of any movement, whether it be civil rights or women's rights, or to sustain nature or democracy, and ask yourself if those are the words of an optimist. And where's the optimism in "come back in ...more
Sarah Clement
This is a well-written, accessible book about how ecosystems are changing in the Anthropocene, but it offers a different take on the subject to what you may have read previously. I consider myself someone who is fairly open to the idea that ecosystems are always changing and that baselines are often arbitrary and unrealistic, and I have read several books along the same veins. But even I found myself resisting some of the ideas in the book. Perhaps deliberately controversial at times, this book ...more
Ricardo Pinto
Oct 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
this book makes plausible arguments that demonstrate that many (most?) of us have an inaccurate view of the ecological crisis that we are facing. The core point being that we must not cling to a notion of keeping the natural world and our fellow creatures in some 'fixed state'; that species and ecosystems are constantly in flux, and that our attempts to protect what we can from human-made damage can often be making the situation worse: because, given climate change etc, we must allow animals and ...more
Adam Orford
May 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: erg
Dr. Chris D. Thomas argues that humanity will probably cause a worldwide increase in biological diversity. He has published scholarly work on the underpinnings of this topic.* The idea goes that average local biological diversity is generally increasing even in the face of global species loss, because the species that are going extinct are geographically isolated while those that are not are expanding their ranges into previously uninhabited territory without displacing native species. So, a plo ...more
Samantha Venter
Nov 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thought this book was excellent - it is really well written and easy to read. It's a fresh perspective on the state of the environment and on conservation. He included humans in nature, which is important because humans are often thought of as 'outside of' or 'separate from' nature. I loved the examples he used and I think this is an important read to think about the flip-side of the current accepted conservation way of thinking. ...more
Nov 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is by far the most fascinating book I have read in a while. If you are a Darwinist and believe in natural selection, how on earth could you object to how humans are affecting our planet? You can't believe in "survival of the fittest" and then object to the possible endangerment of the lesser sage grouse. In other words, you can't have it both ways. Thomas doesn't come out and say this quite so plainly, but it is the inescapable conclusion of his work, which focuses on how life on earth is d ...more
Oct 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is an interesting book that takes a look at the not so doom-and-gloom effects of man's impact on the environment and the ever changing nature of the environment.

The author points out that man is part of nature and man's activities are no different from any other animal, we just use different means to accomplish out goals. He also points out that nature, evolution and the environment are dynamic and ever changing and that conservation efforts that assume nature is static are doomed to failu
Nov 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a totally brazen book which will (repetitively) instruct you to stop worrying and learn to love invasive species, hybridization, release of GMOs, global warming and other man-made changes, even as it claims to not be doing so. Man *is* nature. It gives one something to think about. I thought nature might eventually recover from humans, but this books argues that many species (not just rats) are arriving and thriving thanks to us.
Robin Tobin (On the back porch reading)
Excellent audiobook....
Todd Martin
Oct 17, 2021 rated it did not like it
I have to say, I approached Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction with a healthy dose of skepticism. I heard Chris D. Thomas, Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of York, on a podcast some time ago and he seemed to be saying that there was an upside to the Anthropocene (the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment). Sure, thanks to pollution, habit ...more
May 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This qualifies as a milestone book that has genuinely transformed my opinion and understanding of an important topic. The perspective the author provides deviates from conventional stances
of conservation efforts, I am thoroughly convinced by his view, and nothing is more interesting than different opinions! It's a delicate topic, and really requires reading the whole book to understand the author's perspective. There is also a tone of optimism that has become rare as awareness increases on the
Aug 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is very good. It re-examines the way we look at the extinction event that is currently happening on planet earth as a result of humans. Instead of being necessarily a bad thing, it look at evolution and planet earth on the longer scale and determined that extinction and speciation are both natural. Evolution replaces itself with new forms at the expense of others. Humans, even with their culture, morals, war machines and pollution are part of nature and so any extinctions they cause ar ...more
Feb 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: environment
If you are ever in Los Angeles, visit the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum. It is an oil deposit that rises to the surface of earth; all the lighter fractions of petroleum have evaporated, and only the tar remains. Animals have been getting stuck in it for thousands of years, dying and sinking into the tar, and the museum shows their reconstructed skeletons: the Columbian mammoth, the ground sloth, the dire wolf, an extinct bison larger than the modern bison, the giant short-faced bear, and more. All ...more
May 31, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: biology, science
The core message of the book is solid: don't be prejudiced against organisms that happen to be invasive species. Invasive species have a role to play in the future of ecological habitats around the world. Species mixing produces lots of new species through hybridization, etc. which is generally good for ecosystems.

But it also contains some repugnant messages. Reading it sometimes felt a little bit like watching Fox News. The author is clearly educated in the language of science. He can be eloque
Bill Leach
Dec 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The main theme of this book is that because evolution is a continual process, we should not consider the movement of species around the world as exceptions. Rather than dealing with them as disrupting the current arrangement of species around the globe, we should recognize that species are always in flux.

Climate change is constant and has always caused the distribution of species to change. Perhaps the greatest example is the boreal forest, none of which was present during the ice ages when the
George Christie
Nov 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Okay, every biology student should read this book, it's that thought provoking. That being said, the basic premise of the book, that spreading species across the globe will eventually end up creating vast numbers of new species, is more of an essay subject than a book, and I often felt he was simply using a slightly different example to say the same thing he'd said ten pages ago.

Thomas rightfully points out that size the first cells diverged in one at or another, species have always moved, they
May 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was a timely read with recent headlines projecting 10 percent of the world's species (~1,000,000 in total) will go extinct due to human activities (interestingly, this book, published in 2017, came up with a similar conclusion). However, not discussed is the evolutionary addition of species due to human involvement due to climate change and the increasing diversity on a regional basis due to human-facilitated transport of species.

Thomas amends his conclusions with clear statements that he
Genetic Cuckoo
Aug 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
*Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

Inheritors of the Earth is a fantastic book. The look and feel of this book is wonderful, and the premise is surprisingly different and positive. At first, I was unconvinced, as nature readers are more familiar with the typical story of mass extinction caused my human development and change. But this book really made me think about the disappearance and creation of new species in a different and more logic
Collin Molenaar
Dec 27, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wetenschap, biologie
Chris Thomas calls himself a professor in nature conservation. This is very ironic. In his book he reached a whole new level of anthropocentrism, in which he gives a license to do whatever you want, without caring about the consequences for nature. But let’s face it, even from an anthropocentric point of view, there are many reason to conserve nature.

In his book, Thomas underexposes these reasons. For instance:
-He implies that ecologists want nature to get back to the way things were in the past
Oct 29, 2018 rated it it was ok
I found that this book started off very interesting and then just kept repeating itself over and over. It made for a slog of a read by the end. I did enjoy the frequent use of photography in the book.

Underlying most of the premises in this book is that we should look at the concept of looking at human caused changes in nature through the lens of geologic time versus the lenses usually used. Another underlying concept is there we are in the Anthropocene and humans have created the opportunity for
Yanick Punter
I share similar views that ecologist Chris Thomas has. The world he sees, species are reshuffled, creating novel ecosystems constituting species from different places, sometimes hybridizing and creating new species, diverging and potentially being the start of adaptive radiation. In this view the Anthropocene is not the end, it is just another chapter in life.

See his article The Anthropocene could raise biological diversity: https://www.nature.com/news/the-anthr... If you want an opposing view,
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Chris Thomas is an ecologist and evolutionary biologist, interested in the dynamics of biological change in the Anthropocene. He works on the responses of species to climate change, habitat fragmentation, and biological invasions. He is interested in developing conservation strategies appropriate for a period of rapid environmental change. His research has concentrated on insects and insect-plant ...more

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“Foreign species are acting like any other species: a few have major impacts, but most don’t. Because a large majority of them have such limited impacts, the importation of lots of new species almost always increases the numbers of species in any given location, just as we saw in the forests and waters of Lake Maggiore. When lots of new arrivals establish breeding populations, hardly any ‘natives’ die out as a consequence.” 1 likes
“So, we are still at plus two species: Oxford ragwort and Yorkwort. And it did not stop there: Oxford ragwort’s tour of Britain has been extensive, hybridizing with common groundsel elsewhere, often spawning a plant called Senecio baxteri. Because thirty-chromosome baxteri is sterile, that doesn’t count as a new species. However, a few individual baxteri plants must, by chance, have experienced a developmental ‘error’ somewhere in North Wales, and a fertile sixty-chromosome version was born. Hence Senecio cambrensis, Welsh groundsel, arrived on the scene4–speciation in an instant. Species number three. The same thing happened in Edinburgh, but they were very like cambrensis and died out again, so perhaps we should not add the Edinburgh hybrids to the credits.” 0 likes
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