Monday, January 30, 2017

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

There have been five mass extinctions in the past. This book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History shows that we are currently going through the sixth one. And that we, humans are responsible for this undergoing mass extinction event. And, that there is still hope and more importantly, evidence, for improvement.

This book starts with history and slowly comes to the present. It includes amphibians, mastodons, auks, corals, forests and agriculture, and also why we, homo sapiens, made the Neanderthals and homo erectus extinct, among others.  A chapter by chapter summary of the book is available on Wikipedia. 

Here are some excerpts.

The trunk in elephant-like animals evolved five times separately!

Georges Cuvier: The father of paleontology

Darwin and his guru, Charles Lyell

We humans are the worst.

"Long periods of boredom interrupted occasionally by panic."

Back to school.

Human impact on world geology.

Ocean acdification and mass extinctions.

Are we living in the twilight of the corals?

Twilight indeed.

Speculating why more species live in the tropics.

Who would have thought some species can migrate so much in response to ecological changes?

Climate change and borders.

We, and all other species are cold-adapted.

Insects are everywhere, and outnumbering everyone.

Islands on land: indeed.

Humans: contributing to extinctions since prehistoric times!

Neanderthals: cultured or not?

In little parts, we are all Neanderthals.

From The Madness Gene, the second to last chapter.
A very eye opening and overall knowledge expanding book.


  1. Some interesting perspectives. Humans are stupid creatures really, never thinking beyond anything until they screw it up. Ugg to all the bugs. Not sure on the last though, as we learn a hell of a lot more by exploring than by sitting in a cave.

    1. Thank you for beautifully summarising the post.

      The thing with the last one is, in my opinion, that logically it is better to sit in a cave and be safe. But we humans (humo sapiens) tend to explore and move out. This differentiates us from other human-like things like the homo habilis, homo erectus and the Neanderthals.

  2. An interesting take on this subject. Humans don't necessarily think beyond right now or what they are doing right now and how it can make for the future to be not so great.

    1. You are right. We humans are not too good at long term thinking.

      But come to think of it, neither is any other species. It is just that nature somehow creates a balance, and that we humans are not too good with balancing things.

  3. Humans really think beyond. In the year 1900, there was a resolution in the US Senate to close the Patent Office stating the whatever has to be invented has been invented and there is nothing more to be invented in this world. But the wise senators killed that resolution. Look at the things that were invented since 1900. It is due to people thinking of the future beyond right now.

    1. There was a slight miscommunication on mine and Mary's part. When we discussed humans not being able to think long term, it meant in terms of the impact we have on the overall environment in terms of several thousands or even millions of years.

  4. KK. You have made me want to read that book. I have studied birds at close quarters via close observation and through catching and ringing many species. I often say that birds are much more clever than we mere humans give them credit for. They were here on earth before us and I sincerely believe that when man has destroyed Earth through greed, then many life forms including birds and insects will survive. We are but a millimetre on a very long ruler and have no inherent right to survive before others.

    Thank you for bringing this book to our attention.

    for most of my adult life

  5. Thanks KK. I just ordered the book.

    1. I love your interest on the topic, Phil. I hope you will like reading the book. I will be waiting for your take on it!

  6. I fear that we are on our way to the next one...I hope not...

    I wish you a wonderful weekend :)