The Sixth Extinction

cover of the book The Sixth Extinction

Book Title & Author:
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

Why do you think the LSSU Campus should read this book? How will it build community? start conversations? encourage social engagement? empower critical thinking? Will it inspire an engaging TEDxLSSU theme?
Elizabeth Kolbert’s Pulitzer Prize winning text, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (2014), documents the travels and research of a female science journalist (appeal to women and men in the physical sciences and to communication/journalism students) who treks around the world (appeal to exploration and adventure), who closely examines the ecosystems of rain forests, glaciers, oceans, deserts, and more to examine the evidence of the first five major extinctions on earth (appeal both to science and to exciting –and often funny– storytelling), and who then presents that story in a superbly readable and easily accessible account. The first five extinction events—those that were “natural”—are outlined in easily accessible and highly engaging forms of storytelling where readers meet and engage with the personal stories of scientists who have done work in these fields. The sixth extinction (the one we are in the midst of) is carefully and thoroughly documented by Kolbert, and is clearly outlined as distinct from the first five in a very specific way: it is “unnatural,” driven by human actions rather than by natural causes. Most importantly though, it is an extinction event driven by humans who are aware of the impacts of their decisions and who continue following this pathway anyway. This sixth extinction event, one we are already immersed within, is leading us to the demise of thousands of species, extinctions that will inevitably lead to humans’ own end if we continue on our current trajectory. Through Kolbert’s clear and balanced overview, students who are generally aware of the impacts of climate change in a foggy sense can begin to see its very specific impacts: on frogs, on shellfish, on birds, on mammals, and on us. In reading this text, they also begin specifically to see the ripple effects of these seemingly minor extinctions on larger and larger populations, including our own. Great read. Strongly recommended.

Description from the publisher’s site:
“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.”

Additional Information: This title is available in both Kindle and Audiobook format. It is currently being used as a campus read at Finlandia, Stanford, Millsaps College, University of Vermont and Rowan University among others.

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