Realizing the link between her own estrangement from nature and the cultural shifts that led to a dramatic rise in extinctions, award-winning writer Melanie Challenger travels in search of the stories behind these losses. From an exploration of an abandoned mine in England to an Antarctic sea voyage to South Georgia's old whaling stations, from a sojourn in South America to a stay among an Inuit community in Canada, she uncovers species, cultures, and industries touched by extinction.
Accompanying her on this journey are the thoughts of anthropologists, biologists, and philosophers who have come before her. Drawing on their words as well as firsthand witness and ancestral memory, Challenger traces the mindset that led to our destructiveness and proposes a path of redemption rooted in our emotional responses. This sobering yet illuminating book looks beyond natural devastation to examine "why" and "what's next".
List of Illustrations
Beginnings: Natural History Museum, London
The First Peregrination: West Penwith, Cornwall
1. Wild flowers
The Second Peregrination: South Georgia, Antarctica and the Falkland Islands
The Third Peregrination: North Yorkshire, Manhattan Island and Baffin Island
Endings: Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire
Melanie Challenger is the author of an award-winning first collection of poems, Galatea, and co-author, with Zlata Filipovic, of Stolen Voices, a history of twentieth century conflict compiled through war diaries. During her research for On Extinction, she was a Fellow of the AHRC Centre for the Evolution of Cultural Diversity at University College London and International Fellow at the British Antarctic Survey for International Polar. Her work was also a recipient of the British Council Darwin Awards.
"A deep look at the human capacity for extinction twined with roamings to the far ends of the earth, from poet and fledgling natural historian Challenger [...] She has a rangy curiosity that extends well past ignorance and alienation as the sole agents of the man-made extinction [...] A formidable inquiry into why the marvels of nature and the distinctiveness of cultures are constantly imperiled."
"A book which eloquently explores the unhallowedness of species extinctions and which also depicts humanity's resultant bereftness: their loss is ours."
– Jay Griffiths, author of Wild: An Elemental Journey