Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions of life on earth.
Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs.
Elizabeth Kolbert combines brilliant field reporting, the history of ideas and the work of geologists, botanists and marine biologists to tell the gripping stories of a dozen species – including the Panamanian golden frog and the Sumatran rhino – some already gone, others at the point of vanishing.
The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy and Elizabeth Kolbert's book urgently compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.
Please note: not to be confused with the 1996 book by Richard Leakey by the same title.
Elizabeth Kolbert was a New York Times reporter for fourteen years until she became a staff writer at the New Yorker in 1999. She is the author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe: A Frontline Report on Climate Change. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and children.
"Hers is a deadly message, delivered in elegant prose, and we can't afford to ignore it"
– Sunday Telegraph
"Read this book"
"A distinctive and eloquent voice of conscience [...] In her timely, meticulously researched and well-written book, Kolbert combines scientific analysis and personal narratives to explain it to us. The result is a clear and comprehensive history of earth's previous mass extinctions [...] "People change the world," Kolbert writes, and vividly presents the science and history of the current crisis. Her extensive travels in researching this book, and her insightful treatment of both the history and the science all combine to make The Sixth Extinction an invaluable contribution to our understanding of present circumstances, just as the paradigm shift she calls for is sorely needed"
– Al Gore, New York Times
"Elizabeth Kolbert writes with an aching beauty of the impact of our species on all the other forms of life known in this cold universe. The perspective is at once awe-inspiring, humbling and deeply necessary"
– T.C. Boyle
"Well-composed snapshots of history, theory and observation that will fascinate, enlighten and appal many readers"
"Compelling [...] It is a disquieting tale, related with rigour and restraint by Kolbert"
"Passionate [...] This is the big story of our age. We are living through the historically rare elimination of vast numbers of species. And for the first time, it is our fault [...] Uplifting prose about the wonders of nature. But the overwhelming message of this book is as clear as that of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in 1962. We humans have become a geological force in our own right – and, unless we act, the consequences will be devastating"
– Sunday Times
"It is oddly pleasurable to read Elizabeth's Kolbert's new book, which offers a ramble through mass extinctions, present and past [...] A wonderful chapter covers the North Atlantic's once-abundant, flightless great auks [...] Wisely, Ms Kolbert refuses to end on an optimistic note"
"While plants and animals can evolve to cope with a hotter world, that will take far too long for humans [...] That is ultimately what makes this engaging study scary"
– Scotland on Sunday
“Elizabeth Kolbert's cautionary tale, The Sixth Extinction, offers us a cogent overview of a harrowing biological challenge. The reporting is exceptional, the contextualising exemplary. Kolbert stands at the forefront of what it means to be a socially responsible American writer today”
– Barry Lopez, author of Arctic Dreams
“With her usual lucid and lovely prose, Elizabeth Kolbert lays out the sad and gripping facts of our moment on earth: that we've become a geological force, driving vast swaths of creation over the brink. A remarkable addition to the literature of our haunted epoch”
– Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
“I tore through Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction with a mix of awe and terror. Her long view of extinction excited my joy in life's diversity – even as she made me aware how many species are currently at risk”
– Dava Sobel, author of Longitude and A More Perfect Heaven
“The sixth mass extinction is the biggest story on Earth, period, and Elizabeth Kolbert tells it with imagination, rigour, deep reporting, and a capacious curiosity about all the wondrous creatures and ecosystems that exist, or have existed, on our planet. The result is an important book full of love and loss”
– David Quammen, author of Spillover