Review: The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

Title: The Sixth Extinction
Series: N/A
Author: Elizabeth Kolbert
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Publication Date: February 11th, 2014
Page #: 319
ISBN: 0805092994
Acquisition: College interlibrary loan

I read this book for my Intro. to Sustainability class that I took this past spring. The paper I wrote on it was eight and a half pages long, so let's try and shorten that down for this review!

The Sixth Extinction is a non-fiction book about life, and death, on Earth. The title comes from the concept that there have been five mass extinctions, or mass deaths, encompassing most of life on Earth at the time of their occurrences. Most people are familiar with the K-T extinction, or the event that killed off the dinosaurs.

The fact that dinosaurs once walked the Earth but now no longer do is a topic that even very young children understand: we go to museums to see their bones, see fictional movies about bringing them back to life (with mixed results), and play with their toys. Non-dinosaurs, like mammoths and neanderthals, are other animals that we know are no longer with us. However, this is a relatively new idea: about two hundred years ago people figured that everything they saw was all that there was. It took scientific revolutions in biology and the emergence of paleontology for people to begin to understand that there was life before humans.

The Sixth Extinction, then, is about what happens while we're here. If the scientists, researchers, and conservationists that Kolbert interviews and visits are correct, then not only are we in the midst of the first mass extinctions for humans to witness but we are also the root of this problem.

Kolbert looks into many different intersecting topics for her book: ocean acidification, habitat fragmentation, invasive species, warming climates, and human intervention as well as the causes of all of these. Often intersecting with one another, these events are killing off different species, though not necessarily humans, at increasing rates.

Kolbert, however, approaches these bleak topics with humor and grace. She describes each new location and meeting with vibrant language that is easy to understand. The concepts in the book are explained thoroughly and without too much technical jargon. This isn't a book that you need an M.S. in paleontology, geology, or biology to understand. It's written to inform, not reiterate.

I think that reviewing non-fiction books is difficult. I'm still in school, so I can't confirm, back-up, defend, or "prove" anything that Kolbert is writing in her book. I can only recommend it on the grounds of what I think it is: well-thought out, well researched, and entertaining, if not a little bit morbid. When the stakes are as high as they are we need books like The Sixth Extinction more than ever; we need books that incite interest in topics like the ones presented here because, now or never, we need people who are educated. Voters, teachers, pastors, community leaders, politicians, everyone, really, should make an effort to educate themselves on the non-human consequences of certain actions, and reading The Sixth Extinction is a good place to start.

Five Stars!

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