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See Inside Scientific American Volume 310, Issue 2

Book Review: The Sixth Extinction

Books and recommendations from Scientific American


The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
by Elizabeth Kolbert
Henry Holt, 2014

Of all the species to have ever lived on earth, more than 90 percent are thought to be extinct. Most of them perished sometime over the past half a billion years, in one of the five major mass extinctions that have profoundly reshaped the world. Kolbert, a contributing writer for the New Yorker, argues that we are now in the midst of a sixth extinction, one distressingly of our own making. Part travelogue, part exegesis of extinction's history and literature, each chapter focuses on a single already vanished or critically endangered species and the scientists who study it, revealing a planetary crisis through heartrending close-up portraits of the Sumatran rhinoceros, the little brown bat, the Panamanian golden frog and other unlucky creatures. Fittingly, the book closes with a short chapter on Homo sapiens and an unflinching refusal to sugarcoat the ways we have broken our world.

This article was originally published with the title "The Sixth Extinction."

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