The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

Elizabeth Kolbert

Language: English

Pages: 336

ISBN: 1250062187

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE
ONE OF THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW'S 10 BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR
A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
A NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FINALIST

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-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 prose that is at once frank, entertaining, and deeply informed, New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before. Interweaving research in half a dozen disciplines, descriptions of the fascinating species that have already been lost, and the history of extinction as a concept, Kolbert provides a moving and comprehensive account of the disappearances occurring before our very eyes. She shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy, compelling us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.

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herded into the enclosures until someone could find time to butcher them. Or not. According to an English seaman named Aaron Thomas, who sailed to Newfoundland on the HMS Boston: If you come for their Feathers you do not give yourself the trouble of killing them, but lay hold of one and pluck the best of the Feathers. You then turn the poor Penguin adrift, with his skin half naked and torn off, to perish at his leisure. There are no trees on Funk Island, and hence nothing to burn. This led to

sky.” If twenty-five years ago it seemed that all mass extinctions would ultimately be traced to the same cause, now the reverse seems true. As in Tolstoy, every extinction event appears to be unhappy—and fatally so—in its own way. It may, in fact, be the very freakishness of the events that renders them so deadly; all of a sudden, organisms find themselves facing conditions for which they are, evolutionarily, completely unprepared. “I think that, after the evidence became pretty strong for the

me,” he warned. In fact, debate about Darwin’s theory—the subject of his 1842 book The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs—continued until the nineteen-fifties, when the U.S. Navy arrived in the Marshall Islands with plans to vaporize some of them. In preparation for the H-bomb tests, the Navy drilled a series of cores on an atoll called Enewetak. As one of Darwin’s biographers put it, these cores proved his theory to be, in its large lines at least, “astoundingly correct.” Darwin’s

blue. Guarding her jewel from the pounding surf On her coral rim. On my last day at One Tree, no snorkeling trips were planned, so I decided to try to walk across the island, an exercise that should have taken about fifteen minutes. Not very far into my journey, I ran into Graham, the station manager. A rangy man with bright blue eyes, ginger-colored hair, and a walrus mustache, Graham looked to me like he would have made an excellent pirate. We fell into walking and talking together, and as

transformed” more than half of this land—roughly seventy million square kilometres—mostly by converting it to cropland and pasture, but also by building cities and shopping malls and reservoirs, and by logging and mining and quarrying. Of the remaining sixty million square kilometres, about three-fifths is covered by forest—as the authors put it, “natural but not necessarily virgin”—and the rest is either high mountains or tundra or desert. According to another recent study, published by the

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