The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert isn’t the type of book I would normally have picked to read, but it was the selection as the One Book at Villanova University for this coming academic year, which enabled me to pick up a free copy, so I thought, why not.
I had just finished reading a Harlan Coben novel prior to starting the Sixth Extinction, which was a page turner, and The Sixth Extinction was quite different than that. It took a while to get into it, but then once I did, it also became a page turner and I couldn’t put it down.
The book offered explanations for the five major extinctions that our planet has experienced, and then took a look at what is happening now to our planet.
Certain parts of the book really resonated with me; here’ a couple of quotes:
“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.”
“With the capacity to to represent the world in signs and symbols comes the capacity to change it, which, as it happens, is also the capacity to destroy it. A tiny set of genetic variations divides us from the Neanderthals, but that has made all the difference.”
“We’re seeing right now that a mass extinction can be caused by human beings.”
“To argue that the current extinction event could be averted if people just cared more and were willing to make more sacrifices is not wrong, exacty; still, it misses the point. It doesn’t much matter whether people care or don’t care. What matters is that people change the world.”
At the American Museum of Natural History in the Hall of Biodiversity, there is a plaque that states: “Right now we are in the mist of the Sixth Extinction, this time caused solely by humanity’s transformation of the ecological landscape.”
Some scientists believe that “human ingenuity will outrun any disaster human ingenuity sets in motion.”
The book concludes that “the Sixth Extinction will continue to determine the course of life long after everything people have written and painted and built has been ground into dust.”
The book has piqued my interest to learn more about the history of man, and of life on Planet Earth in general. For example, I had no idea that our current knowledge of dinosaurs only came into existence during the 1800s; I just assumed that people like Plato and Aristotle knew about the prior existence of such animals.
It has also put visiting the Great Barrier Reef at the top of my travel wish list, since there’s a chance it may not be there much longer.
All in all, a great read, and I highly recommend it.
I am also looking forward to the author’s visit to our campus in late September. I was quite impressed with the amount of research and all of the off-the-beaten path travel that was involved in putting together such a book. Kolbert’s ability to put all of that together in an informative yet entertaining way likely played a key role in the book receiving the Pulitzer Prize.