Parul Sehgal of The New York Times reports for NY1 on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in "The Book Reader."
"The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History" is an enthralling - yes, enthralling - new book on extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, a staff writer at the New Yorker.
It's reviewed on the cover of the New York Times Book Review this week by former Vice President Al Gore, who praises Kolbert’s "...distinctive and eloquent voice of conscience.
Since Earth came into being some 3.8 billion years ago, there have been five major extinctions. Most recently, 6.6 million years ago, an asteroid hurtled into the Yucatan Peninsula, leaving a crater 110 miles deep and killing off about 75 percent of all plant and animal life.
In her new book, Kolbert brings these catastrophes to life in breathtaking detail, as well as providing an elegant history of the very idea of extinction, how it was realized and resisted. She reports from coral reefs, the Andes, the Amazon rainforest to bring the narrative to the present day, to what biologists are calling the sixth mass extinction, in which up to 50 percent of all living species will disappear in this century.
Depressing stuff, you might think, but Kolbert writes with a scientist's appetite for astonishment and a sort of pragmatic, energetic fatalism. Be depressed or sanguine, she seems to say, but there's no getting around the fact that for good or ill, "humans change the world."
At this very moment, "we are deciding, without quite meaning to, which evolutionary pathways will remain open and which will forever be closed. No other creature has ever managed this, and it will, unfortunately, be our most enduring legacy."
Find more reviews of new books in the New York Times Book Review at www.nytimes.com/books.