Book Review: The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

Good morning bookworms!

I started this one on March 1 and just finished it. It was a bit dry sometimes and a bit depressing, but overall I found it really interesting. The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert is about the previous mass extinctions we have had on earth and the current 6th one we are in. Every day more species of animals and plants become extinct because of humans. We are killing the planet with our complete disregard for Mother Nature.

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“Right now we are in the midst of the Sixth Extinction, this time caused solely by humanity’s transformation of the ecological landscape.” – page 267

There have been 5 mass extinctions before now, mostly caused by weather changes and meteors. The current extinction is caused by us. We are a plague on the earth, using it’s resources without restraint, traveling all over the world bringing invasive species with us. And it’s basically too late to stop it. Kolbert spends a lot of time researching in the field. Throughout the book you find her in a bat cave in New York, a fragmented plot in the Amazon rain forest, petting a rhino at the Cincinnati zoo, an island off the coast of Australia studying ocean acidification, diving coral reefs, hunting for frogs in Mexico and in Germany at a museum for Neanderthal fossils. Her first hand reports are illuminating. This is not some scientist speaking in terms that are difficult to understand, this is a journalist getting into the nitty gritty of extinction and reporting back. And that makes it really easy to read.

“In pushing other species to extinction, humanity is busy sawing the limb on which it perches.” – page 268

What makes it not so easy to read is the dire nature of our situation. Let’s take the brown bats of North America for example, a photo was taken in a bat cave in 2009, one year after researchers noticed a mass die off of the creatures during their hibernation phase. A white fungus was found to be growing on their bodies, killing them while they slept. The picture from 2009 shows a corner of the cave ceiling covered in hanging bats. In 2010 the same corner is photographed with only a handful of bats present. In 2011, same corner, no bats. They haven’t moved, they’ve died from this foreign fungus.

For an example that more closely involves humans, we can look at the Rhino. Poachers have been killing rhinos for their horns for a long time. But a surge in recent years has been caused by the increase in popularity of snorting powdered rhino horn as a drug. “…poachers, who can sell rhino horns on the black market for more than twenty thousand dollars a pound.” – page 222. There are about 5000 rhinos left in Africa now, there used to over 1 million. And zoos in America are consolidating their rhinos together to try and breed them. Humans have had a detrimental impact on this species and we are now trying to save them in captivity.

This book is $14 on Indigo right now. You need to read it.

I think knowledge is power and learning about the world outside of my little bubble makes me a better human. There is a lot we can do to avoid climate disaster. Another book I would recommend is The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells. You can read my review of that one by clicking on the title. It’s been two years since I read that book and not much had changed in the world. Informing ourselves and making any changes we can could help save this planet, humanity and every other species of flora and fauna from total destruction.

Ps. Thank you to Anna @anna.andthebooks for buddy reading this one with me. It helped to have someone to talk to about this depressing material. And we had so much fun reading the nonfiction, we are going to read another nonfiction next month!

Happy Reading!


5 thoughts on “Book Review: The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

  1. I’m about to graduate my bachelor’s program in environmental science. I want to read this book, along with Kolbert’s new book Under a White Sky, but I already deal with a large volume of depressing information on a regular basis. Hopefully, I’ll be in the right headspace to dive in soon.


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