A reading club with a view to the future

460 Elizabeth Kolbert: The Sixth Extinction

“The Sixth Extinction” explores the ongoing mass extinction of species caused by human activities and its devastating implications.



In "The Sixth Extinction," Elizabeth Kolbert presents a compelling and alarming account of the current mass extinction event unfolding on Earth. Through extensive research and vivid storytelling, Kolbert highlights the profound impact of human activities on biodiversity and the delicate balance of ecosystems. She explores the historical context of previous extinction events and the scientific evidence pointing to the current unprecedented loss of species. From the acidification of oceans to habitat destruction and climate change, Kolbert examines the interconnected factors driving this crisis. By shedding light on the implications for ecosystems and humanity, "The Sixth Extinction" serves as a powerful wake-up call and a call to action to prevent further irreversible damage to our planet.


  1. Title: The Sixth Extinction 
  2. Author: Elizabeth Kolbert 
  3. Publishing Year: 2014 
  4. Publisher: Henry Holt and Company 
  5. Length: 9 hours and 59 minutes

5 main ideas

  1. The History of Extinction: Kolbert delves into the history of past extinction events and the recognition that we are now in the midst of the sixth mass extinction.
  2. Human Impact: The book explores the ways in which human activities, such as habitat destruction, pollution, and climate change, are driving the current wave of extinction.
  3. Ecosystem Collapse: Kolbert examines the cascading effects of species loss and the potential collapse of ecosystems as a result.
  4. Species at Risk: The book focuses on specific endangered species and the threats they face, highlighting the urgency of conservation efforts.
  5. Hope for the Future: While painting a bleak picture, the book also offers glimpses of hope and emphasizes the importance of taking action to mitigate the ongoing crisis.

5 funny quotes

  1. "The American burying beetle, which does the deed of burying better than just about any other species."
  2. "The Lord God is said to have kept an ark on hand just for such an emergency."
  3. "The fact that a ground sloth once called Ohio home is so well established that an artist was commissioned to depict the beast for a mural in the state capitol."
  4. "When we erect a building or drain a swamp or clear-cut a forest, we are playing by ice age rules."
  5. "At 1:30 a.m., my cell phone rang, and it was the zoo. It seemed that the rhinos were amorous."

5 thought-provoking quotes​

  1. "Though it might be nice to imagine there once was a time when man lived in harmony with nature, it's not clear that he ever really did."
  2. "We are deciding, without quite meaning to, which evolutionary pathways will remain open and which will forever be closed."
  3. "The history of life on Earth has been a history of extinction events, and new ones have always arisen."
  4. "We live in a world halfway to hell, but it doesn't mean we have to go the rest of the way."
  5. "The fate of biodiversity is tied to human activity; the fate of humanity is tied to biodiversity."

5 dilemmas

  1. Balancing economic development and human progress with the need to protect and conserve biodiversity.
  2. The ethical considerations surrounding the extinction of species caused by human activities.
  3. The challenges of predicting the long-term consequences of species loss and ecosystem collapse.
  4. The role of individual actions and personal responsibility in mitigating the ongoing extinction crisis.
  5. The tension between short-term gains and long-term sustainability in addressing the threats to biodiversity.

5 examples

  1. ExxonMobil - Kolbert discusses the impact of fossil fuel extraction and burning on climate change and the subsequent effects on biodiversity.
  2. The Royal Society - A prestigious scientific institution that has published significant research on the sixth mass extinction.
  3. Conservation International - An organization dedicated to protecting biodiversity and implementing conservation efforts worldwide.
  4. The Smithsonian Institution - Kolbert references the institution's research and contributions to understanding and documenting species loss.
  5. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) - An international conservation organization involved in efforts to protect endangered species and their habitats.

Referenced books

  1. "The Origin of Species" by Charles Darwin
  2. "The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions" by David Quammen
  3. "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson
  4. "The Diversity of Life" by Edward O. Wilson
  5. "The Sixth Extinction: Patterns of Life and the Future of Humankind" by Richard E. Leakey and Roger Lewin

Share a quote

"When we erect a building or drain a swamp or clear-cut a forest, we are playing by ice age rules."

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