Review: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s amazing and at the same time frightening that we could be in the midst of one of the biggest extinction events in history. Kolbert outlines several species, past and present, that have disappeared or been in the process of at various points in time. Mastodons, auks, ammonites – they all make an appearance in fossil form; amphibians, bats, Sumatran rhinos – these are just a few of those whose days are numbered.

I’m left in awe of the fact that humans can be so enlightening (much of what we know today about prehistoric creatures comes from a gentleman named Cuvier, from around 1800) and so threatening (we act basically as invasive species do, whether it’s in the form of overhunting species that have no natural predators or inadvertently bringing along technology that harms others) at the same time. Even in the act of studying some of these creatures with the best intentions, we can affect them in an incredibly negative way.

I had been expecting a chapter or two on what we can do about this whole situation (fix climate change! stop poaching!), but it never came. I don’t think that’s a fault of this book – in fact, I think it makes the book have even more of an impact. For many species in many parts of the world, it’s simply too late.

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