Reading List: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

This time in the Book Recommendations I will be talking about a very interesting, heartbreaking book that touches upon a topic which many of us have a problem facing up to – the human-induced disappearance of species from Earth. Many of us who like space, science and technology are sometimes so inspired by what progress did for our own species that we tend to forget that humans can also be a negative force acting upon the natural world. We have prospered at the expense of other species and sometimes their sacrifices are not as simple as few individuals of a certain species dying as a result of deforestation. Sometimes the price is as high as the disappearance of entire species.

This book is a shocking reminder of what kind of force humanity is and how humans had a destructive impact not only upon the ancient megafauna and through our history, but it will also remind you that it is entirely possible we are responsible for the disappearance of earlier species of humans as well.

I am not a critic or anything, but I really and truly believe that “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History” by Elizabeth Kolbert has indeed earned the Pulitzer Prize in the General Nonfiction category. As it was really written for a general audience, everyone can appreciate the wonderful work that is this book.

And indeed, this book is a lot of things – it’s a recollection of the author’s travels, a lesson in history, a lesson in biology, a lesson in humility, a wake-up call, a heartbreaking story with a glimmer of hope at the end but still a heartbreaking conclusion. It’s sad, tragic, interesting and funny at times, truly an amazing literary work.

The book argues that we are in the middle of a human-made sixth extinction and provides expert opinions and testimonies to prove this point, written and paraphrased so that everybody can understand the issues.

As you look at the title, you might expect that the book is only about the global warming, but this book will shockingly remind you that we humans have changed every aspect of our world, moulded it and adjusted it to our will – and largely at the expense of the environment. Global warming is a huge problem, yes, but humans do other things to the environment as well – we deforest huge areas leaving the species without their habitats, we introduce invasive species to delicate ecosystems that cannot handle them, we acidify the oceans, we overuse resources – for example overfishing. The book exposes all sorts of bad things humans do which have devastating consequences for the flora and fauna.

The book is in a way a recollection of the author’s travels – and it is shown that in many environments’ humans have made an impact – the damage is not limited to the rainforest, for example. She has been to many places on earth and talked with experts, so the book is a combination of explanations of her voyages, expert opinions, scientific facts and history.

But not only through space, but she also takes us on a journey through time. She briefly explains past extinctions and compares them with this one. On this journey, through time we also learn a brief history of scientific progress in the areas such as evolution and palaeontology as we learn that it was once considered impossible that species can disappear – a way of thinking not at all dissimilar to the denialism of climate change and the sixth extinction event today.

At the end – a glimmer of hope is offered in a form of a reminder that good people exist who strive to preserve the seemingly doomed species, who protect the environment and make great personal sacrifices in order to protect the biodiversity and make humanity’s legacy just a little less bloody and our conscience just a tiny bit clearer.

All in all, it is an uncomfortable, heartbreaking yet VERY educational book. It offers fascinating stories of adventure, gives insights into the history of science, highlights the issues of our time and it will make you think. As Franz Kafka would say:

"If the book we are reading doesn't wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? ...we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us."

I am hard pressed to remember a book I have recently read which fits this description more than „The Sixth Extinction“. This is one of the must-read books for anyone and I cannot stress this enough. Highly recommended.

Get the book from Amazon.

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