The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
An Unnatural History

75%

37 Critic Reviews

An important book is by necessity one that provokes serious disagreement as well as thought. It’s a tribute to Kolbert’s achievement that I also ended up having some serious philosophical reservations about her ultimate argument.
-National Post arts

Synopsis

ONE OF THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW'S 10 BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR

A major book about the future of the world, blending intellectual and natural history and field reporting into a powerful 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. In The Sixth Extinction, two-time winner of the National Magazine Award and New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert draws on the work of scores of researchers in half a dozen disciplines, accompanying many of them into the field: geologists who study deep ocean cores, botanists who follow the tree line as it climbs up the Andes, marine biologists who dive off the Great Barrier Reef. She introduces us to a dozen species, some already gone, others facing extinction, including the Panamian golden frog, staghorn coral, the great auk, and the Sumatran rhino. 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.

 

About Elizabeth Kolbert

See more books from this Author
DIV DIV Elizabeth Kolbert was a reporter for the New York Times for fourteen years before becoming a staff writer covering politics for the New Yorker. She and her husband, John Kleiner, have three sons. They live in Williamstown, MA.
 
Published February 11, 2014 by Henry Holt and Co.. 336 pages
Genres: Political & Social Sciences, Computers & Technology, Science & Math, Nature & Wildlife, Professional & Technical. Non-fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Mar 02 2014
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Weeks as Bestseller
Add Critic Review

Critic reviews for The Sixth Extinction
All: 37 | Positive: 28 | Negative: 9

Kirkus

Excellent
on Feb 03 2014

Kolbert also weaves a relatable element into the at-times heavily scientific discussion, bringing the sites of past and present extinctions vividly to life with fascinating information that will linger with readers long after they close the book. A highly significant eye-opener rich in facts and enjoyment.

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Publishers Weekly

Excellent
on Nov 25 2013

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...

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by AL GORE on Feb 19 2014

And in her timely, meticulously researched and well-written book, Kolbert combines scientific analysis and personal narratives to explain it to us. The result is a clear and comprehensive history of earth’s previous mass extinctions — and the species we’ve lost — and an engaging description of the extraordinarily complex nature of life.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Michiko Kakutani on Feb 02 2014

The plight of doomed, extinct or nearly extinct animals is embodied in Elizabeth Kolbert’s arresting new book, “The Sixth Extinction,” by two touching creatures.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Robert McCrum on Feb 01 2016

Readers of The Sixth Extinction will be unable to evade the conclusion that we do indeed find ourselves on the brink of a great catastrophe...

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Nicholas Lezard on Jan 13 2015

Kolbert’s book is not, thankfully, as depressing as you might think. She has a good grip on her subject and uses a light touch when it is most needed.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Robin McKie on Feb 15 2014

It is a disquieting tale, related with rigour and restraint by Kolbert who takes us on a journey to central Panama in a futile hunt for golden frogs and other lost amphibians...

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Caspar Henderson on Jan 17 2014

And in The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert, a staff writer for the New Yorker, offers well-composed snapshots of history, theory and observation that will fascinate, enlighten and appal many readers.

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NY Journal of Books

Below average
Reviewed by Geri Spieler on Feb 10 2014

The Sixth Extinction is a dense, scientific text. It takes a commitment and interest in the most minute of details to absorb this level of research, but proves fascinating for those who are willing to take a highly technical journey...

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Globe and Mail

Above average
Reviewed by Ivan Semeniuk on Feb 14 2014

Such assessments could make for a gloomy read but but Kolbert manages to avoid being depressing or preachy by keeping her focus on the science, which is engrossing, and the scientists she meets along the way. Together, they form a remarkable cast of characters, all grappling with an unprecedented moment in the story of life.

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The Economist

Below average
on Feb 22 2014

To science-minded readers, little of this will be revelatory. Ms Kolbert glides through the problems humans have created—climate change, incursion into wildlands, the transport of invasive species—with broad strokes. She misses a few chances to emphasise the value of biodiversity...

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National Post arts

Good
Reviewed by Jeet Heer on Feb 14 2014

An important book is by necessity one that provokes serious disagreement as well as thought. It’s a tribute to Kolbert’s achievement that I also ended up having some serious philosophical reservations about her ultimate argument.

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The Washington Post

Above average
Reviewed by Michael S. Roth on Feb 22 2014

In her new book, “The Sixth Extinction,” she provides a tour de horizon of the Anthropocene Age’s destructive maw, and it is a fascinating and frightening excursion.

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The Independent

Good
Reviewed by Peter Forbes on Mar 11 2014

Kolbert has not only grasped the enormity of what we are unleashing, but can present it in a way that even the average human with a short historical attention span can grasp. Read this book.

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The Telegraph

Good
Reviewed by Philip Hoare on Mar 11 2014

Kolbert is a witty, deft writer with an eye for vivid colour. She takes us from sun-blistered desert islands on the Great Barrier Reef to the sopping Peruvian jungle, where she joins her guides chewing coca leaves to sustain her Andean trudge.

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Booklist Online

Above average
Reviewed by Donna Seaman on Dec 01 2013

Rendered with rare, resolute, and resounding clarity, Kolbert’s compelling and enlightening report forthrightly addresses the most significant topic of our lives.

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Dallas News

Good
Reviewed by Mary Ann Gwinn on Mar 08 2014

Kolbert is an astute observer, excellent explainer and superb synthesizer, and even manages to find humor in her subject matter. But The Sixth Extinction is an alarming book.

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The Boston Globe

Good
Reviewed by Wen Stephenson on Feb 22 2014

Kolbert is a masterful, thought-provoking reporter. Her 2006 “Field Notes from a Catastrophe” is among the most important books on climate change, and she brings the same precision and intelligence to bear here.

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BookPage

Excellent
Reviewed by Alden Mudge on Feb 11 2014

Kolbert’s enviable talents, her wit and intelligence, the clarity of her prose, are on full display in The Sixth Extinction, a fascinating and alarming book that examines mass extinctions of life formst...The Sixth Extinction is a must-read for anyone concerned in any way, shape or form about the future of life on planet Earth.

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Open Letters Monthly

Good
Reviewed by Steve Donoghue on Jul 04 2014

So The Sixth Extinction works as the ultimate corrective to environmental optimism. It’s the death-knell of an entire epoch of life – and one hell of a good read in the bargain!

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The Seattle Times

Above average
Reviewed by Mary Ann Gwinn on Feb 22 2014

Elizabeth Kolbert’s revelatory new book, “The Sixth Extinction,” about the rapid and radical changes man is wreaking on the Earth, is one of those works of explanatory journalism that achieves the highest and best use of the form. After you read it, your view of the world will be fundamentally changed.

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Oregon Live

Above average
Reviewed by JEREMY GARBER on Feb 10 2014

With beautiful, luminous prose...Kolbert accessibly reveals the extent of the mass extinction we are currently in the midst of..."The Sixth Extinction" is assuredly a most significant and substantial work - one that foresees the calamity of our future, and aims to forestall the most ignominious bequest imaginable.

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Review (Barnes & Noble)

Above average
on Feb 13 2014

65 million years ago, an asteroid impact brought a sudden end to the age of the dinosaurs. In this riveting scientific detective story, New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert follows the equally dramatic wave of biological destruction happening right under our noses.

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Chicago Tribune

Above average
Reviewed by Chris Bentley on Mar 14 2014

Their subjects become more familiar as the chapters progress, ending in our evolutionary brethren — Neanderthals — and hinting at the fate of Homo sapiens. Maybe we have always been out of harmony with nature. In this context we start to see humanity as an aberration.

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Scotsman.com

Above average
Reviewed by Andrew Neather on Mar 08 2014

That is ultimately what makes this engaging study scary: Kolbert believes the processes that she traces are too big and too far advanced to reverse. The Earth will continue, even if it ends up populated by giant rats rather than humans.

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Library Journal

Above average
Reviewed by Neal Wyatt on Feb 05 2014

Her smart, detailed, and clear writing, combined with her practical and forthright approach, enhances what is already a compelling story...it is hard to read her survey, as engrossing, engaging, and wittily written as it is, without deep feelings of loss.

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Esquire

Good
Reviewed by Hamza Shaban on Mar 19 2014

The sections on beings that are recently extinct or on their way out are beautiful mixtures of elegy, wonder, and dark philosophical probing.

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Scientific American

Above average
Reviewed by Lee Billings on Feb 01 2014

...each chapter focuses on a single already vanished or critically endangered species and the scientists who study it, revealing a planetary crisis through heartrending close-up portraits of the Sumatran rhinoceros, the little brown bat, the Panamanian golden frog and other unlucky creatures.

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Willamette Week

Above average
Reviewed by KATHRYN PEIFER on Feb 19 2014

Kolbert, a staff writer for The New Yorker, eloquently compiles more than 500 million years of witty anecdotes, narratives of historical figures, and her own firsthand accounts into a concise sci-fi thriller that is, well, true.

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Prospect

Above average
Reviewed by PHILIP BALL on Jan 23 2014

New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert might have had an enviable National Geographic-style itinerary for researching this survey—the Great Barrier Reef...but what she saw, and has recorded without melodrama or sentimentality in this important book, is often heartbreaking and deeply alarming.

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Before It's News

Above average
Reviewed by AlignShineProsper on Feb 14 2014

And in her timely, meticulously researched and well-written book, Kolbert combines scientific analysis and personal narratives to explain it to us. The result is a clear and comprehensive history of earth’s previous mass extinctions — and the species we’ve lost — and an engaging description of the extraordinarily complex nature of life.

Read Full Review of The Sixth Extinction: An Unna...

Under My Apple Tree

Excellent
Reviewed by Leslie on Apr 03 2014

This is not a heavy science book. While there are a lot of scientific facts contained between the pages, it’s a very readable and relatable book. I consider myself a bit of a science geek and loved every minute of it, but at the same time I would also highly recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in the subject. It is that good.

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The Nature of Things

Good
Reviewed by Dorothy Borders on Feb 27 2014

This is a well-written book which can popularize scientific concepts and principles for a mass audience. It is an easy read and a fairly short one at less than 300 pages.

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Vulture

Above average
on Feb 22 2014

Combining a lucid, steady, understated style with some enviable reporting adventures (chasing frogs in the Panamanian jungle, watching coral spawn in the Great Barrier Reef), she produces a book that is both serious-­minded and invites exclamation points into its margins.

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Publisher's Weekly

Above average
on Feb 22 2014

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.

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http://kennedy-law.blogspot.com

Above average
Reviewed by Paul B. Kennedy on Apr 18 2014

She reminds us that just because we're on top of the food chain today it doesn't mean we'll be on top in the future. At one time giant dinosaurs were kings of the planet.

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https://www.sciencenews.org

Above average
Reviewed by Gabriel Popkin on Feb 22 2014

A lesser writer tackling this subject might offer up a dreary list of dead and dying species; Kolbert instead tells a scientific thriller. The tale begins in 1739, when strange bones turned up near the Ohio River.

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85%

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