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Review & Summary: The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

Discover the dark truths of Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction. Uncover the imminent danger threatening our planet in this gripping book review.
Introduction of Book Review & Summary: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

A major book about the future of the world, blending intellectual and natural history and field reporting into a powerful account of the mass extinction unfolding before our eyes.

Over the last half-billion years, there have been Five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on Earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. 

This time around, the cataclysm is us. In prose that is at once frank, entertaining, and deeply informed, New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before. 

Interweaving research in half a dozen disciplines, descriptions of the fascinating species that have already been lost, and the history of extinction as a concept, Kolbert provides a moving and comprehensive account of the disappearances occurring before our very eyes. 

She shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy, compelling us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.

Book: The Sixth Extinction Book

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History is a 2014 non-fiction book written by Elizabeth Kolbert and published by Henry Holt and Company. The book argues that the Earth is in the midst of a modern, man-made, sixth extinction. Wikipedia

    • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (January 6, 2015)
    • Originally published: February 11, 2014
    • Author: Elizabeth Kolbert
    • Genres: Non-fiction, Popular science
    • Awards: Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction
    • Nominations: Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction
    • Language: English
    • Paperback: 336 pages
    • Item Weight: 10.6 ounces
    • Dimensions : 5.53 x 0.9 x 8.26 inches 

book-review-the-sixth-extinction-by-elizabeth-kolbert


About the Author: Elizabeth Kolbert

A well-known American journalist and a special writer for the environment column of The New Yorker magazine. Her writing focuses on the impact of human civilization on Earth's ecosystems. 

He has won the 2005 American Association for the Advancement of Science Journalism Writing Award, the 2006 American Magazine Public Issue Reporting Award, the Lannan Literature Award, and the Academic Communication Award. Genham Foundation Science Writing Award. 

Author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change, The Prophet of Love: And Other Stories of Power and Deception. Other Tales of Power and Deceit) and other four books. She lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts, with her husband and children.


Excerpts from the original text (The Sixth Extinction quotes)

There is no reason to think that in a warmer world, there will be less biodiversity than in a colder world, on the contrary, for some of the “latitude gradients of biodiversity”! The explanation hints at the possibility that after a long period of time-a, a warm world has more diverse creatures. However, in a relatively short period of time, and also on the time scale of human relations, things are completely different.—— Quoted from page 239

"If the theory of evolution works in its usual way," Silman said, "then the scene of mass extinction-we don't care about it as extinction, but we will use a more euphemistic and beautiful term called ecological reduction' ——The scene will look like the end of the world."—— Quoted from page 240 

The Sixth Extinction Book Summary

One species becomes extinct one after another and one species after another decreases. Who will be the next one to be extinct? When they're gone, remember they existed.

The author, Elizabeth Colbert, is an American journalist and author of "Notes on Disaster". "The Age of Extinction" won the 99th Pulitzer Prize for Journalism in 2015 in the "Fiction" category. 

In the book, journalist Elizabeth Colbert can be seen personally walking through every ecological environment, observing and looking for extinct and endangered species together with biologists. 

She showed the history of mass extinction for mankind and the world and revealed the beginning of the sixth mass extinction. 

The book presents 13 stories, including extinct representative species, the current fragmented tropical rainforest, and the original human genes.

According to the records of marine fossils, mass extinctions occurred five times in history, the end of the Ordovician, the late Devonian, the end of the Permian, the late Triassic, and the end of the Cretaceous. 

Every extinct species will disappear in large numbers. The most familiar ones are the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period. 

The 140 million species that survived have disappeared since then. In addition, the plesiosaurs and mosasaurs in the sea can fly. Pterosaurs and ammonites disappeared together. 

In addition to the five extinctions, experts also speculate that there were many other small-scale extinction events that caused the disappearance of species. 

After the disappearance of the dinosaur age, about 2 million to 3 million years ago, human beings stepped onto the stage of history.

The emergence of human beings has caused changes in nature. Global warming not only threatens animals that like cold weather. 

For example, in the Arctic, the area covered by permanent sea ice is only half of what it was 30 years ago, and it may disappear completely in 30 years. , then the animals on the ice, polar bears, and ringed seals will also face enormous pressure to survive. 

And greatly increased the challenges of biological survival in the tropics. Many species are already on the road to extinction. 

For example, in a story in the book, the Panamanian golden frog lives in the tropical rainforest of Panama. Its body color is bright yellow or orange. It is very beautiful. In "Spirit", I have seen a scene of a large number of golden frogs resting with my own eyes, which is very gorgeous and spectacular. 

Unfortunately, because of climate change, chytrid fungus was produced, which caused a large number of extinction of frogs and other amphibians.

For humans, the moment the climate changes, the sixth extinction has already begun. Recalling the virus disasters in recent years, it seems like the earth and nature have given mankind revenge. SARS in China, Ebola in the Middle East, and now MERS in South Korea. 

Where did these viruses come from? According to data, they all come from bats, which are the original hosts of the viruses. 

Bats exist widely on all continents of the world. As flying mammals, they have a huge range of activities, so bats are very capable of spreading viruses. 

This phenomenon seems to be that the golden frog has been infected with fungus, and the golden frog is slowly disappearing. 

As for human beings, they can withstand the spread of viruses several times. The SARS of the year made the Chinese panic. Last year, the Ebola virus infected thousands of people in the Middle East, and the death toll skyrocketed. 

The Ebola virus has not completely disappeared. MERS It appeared in Arab countries again, and now China and South Korea have also become infected countries. 

Although the transmission speed of MERS is not as fast as that of SARS, it will cause a 40% mortality rate. If it spreads, where will the survival of human beings be?

Who will be the next exterminated person, maybe the answer lies in nature, maybe in human beings.


The Sixth Extinction Book Review

Catalog  ·······
  • Preface with a sense of gratitude
  • Chapter 1 summary - The Sixth Mass Extinction (Panama Golden Frog)
  • Chapter 2 summary - Mastodon’s molars (American mastodon)
  • Chapter 3 summary - The original penguin (auk)
  • Chapter 4 summary - The Luck of Ammonites (New Jersey Panship Ammonites)
  • Chapter 5 summary - Welcome to the Anthropocene (Ripple Double Crane Grapestone)
  • chapter 6 summary - The Ocean Surrounding Us (Mediterranean ray limpets).
  • Chapter 7 Summary - Acidification (Porous Staghorn Coral) 
  • Chapter 8 summary - Forests and Trees (Whistling double-winged fruit trees)
  • Chapter 9 summary - Lonely Island on the Road (Devil ants)
  • Chapter 10 summary - New Pangea (Little Brown Bat)
  • Chapter 11 summary - Rhinoceros ultrasound (Sumatran rhino)
  • Chapter 12 summary - Crazy Genes (Neanderthals)
  • Chapter 13 summary - Feathered Things (Homo sapiens)
I read this book a long time ago, I should have been a freshman at that time, and like all your young friends, I read it with a little knowledge and gained a lot of knowledge. Two years later, I studied paleontology, and I also did some work on paleoclimate. I picked it up and reread it, and I was very impressed.

This book is not thick, and the language is approachable, mostly based on the author's personal experience - we are in the sixth mass extinction event in geological history, and we are his witnesses and witnesses. In addition, this book uses a certain amount of space to introduce the development history of geology, paleontology, and ecology, such as the relationship between the two academic originators, Lyell and Darwin.

I read an article before, and it was basically saying that everyone had a dinosaur dream when they were young, but when they grow up, most of the scholars who are dinosaurs (paleontology) show a sneering attitude. 

The paleontological dreams of foreign youths can last a little longer, after all, there is a glorious history of ancient naturalists, in their 20s, they are devoted to creatures hundreds of millions of years ago, and they may be regarded as Blame it for being playful.

Research on the Cretaceous Extinction——The History of the Discipline

This book focuses on the Cretaceous extinction event not only because it was the most severe of the five extinction events, but because it is the closest to us. The study of this event has promoted the rapid development of geological concepts, from "uniformity" to "mass extinction", people's understanding of biological evolution has entered a new stage.

The Sixth Extinction Chapter 1 summary - The Sixth Mass Extinction (Panama Golden Frog)

This chapter basically describes the current situation of the sixth mass extinction mainly mentioned in this book and a partial fragment details, the endangered status of the Golden Frog in Panama, And points out that the culprit leading to this situation is the biological migration behavior of human beings. 

On this basis, it is pointed out that most of the extinctions of species today can be traced back to the source and found to be caused by human activities in the final analysis.

"Bd chytrid interferes with frogs' ability to absorb vital electrolytes through their skin, ultimately causing them to suffer the equivalent of a heart attack." 

"The frequency of species extinctions is very low, even lower than that of speciation, which we call the background extinction rate. The usual expression is the number of species extinctions per million species-years."."

The Sixth Extinction Chapter 2 summary - Mastodon’s molars (American mastodon)

In Chapter 5, the author clearly states that the scientific theoretical framework guiding the first half of this book is a paradigm shift of Thomas Kuhn's scientific revolution. 

If the author does not point it out, the reader can naturally perceive the author's thinking model according to the change in his thinking after reading the second chapter and the third chapter. 

The author of this chapter introduces the concept of mass extinction. Cuvier first put forward the hypothesis of cataclysm based on a large number of fossil research comparisons. His work also brought awareness to the existence of some animals that went extinct and were not the ancestors of living creatures. 

Conceptually evokes the existence of vanished species and "past worlds" to be discovered. However, this part only mentions the concept of extinction and the extinction of creatures, and the extinction theory that leads to the mass extinction of creatures has not appeared.

"Through his lecture "The Species of Elephants—Existing and Fossil Species," Cuvier succeeded in establishing and confirming the concept of extinction." The discovery is an extremely sensational event." "Cuvier's own efforts almost completely screened, and there are already 49 species of extinct vertebrates at this time."

The Sixth Extinction Chapter 3 summary - The original penguin (auk)

Unlike the previous chapter, Lyell and Darwin mentioned in this chapter do not support the catastrophe theory. Due to the influence of the theoretical framework of the natural selection theory, most people hold the view of uniformitarianism, which also does not consider the actual fossil evidence. 

Reasonable inferences based on the theory of natural selection. Since species have evolved into new species through natural selection, species have gradually become extinct due to their inability to adapt to the environment over a long period of time. This view has since dominated the paleontological community.

In addition to interspersing the above main points of view, this chapter also recounts Lyle's basic points of view, and the process of Darwin's research going through the process of putting forward the theory of natural selection, as well as the influence of this theory. In addition, the author also described the process of his investigation of the extinct species of the great auk.

The Sixth Extinction Chapter 4 summary - The Luck of Ammonites (New Jersey Panship Ammonites)

Under the theoretical framework of uniformitarianism, Alvarez and his son put forward the hypothesis of asteroid collision based on the detection of a large amount of iridium accumulation in samples obtained from multiple clay layers. 

This assumption has attracted denial and condemnation from other researchers because this exception is an example of the difficulty of explaining the theory of uniformitarianism under the framework of uniformitarianism, which means that there are problems in the theory of uniformitarianism that need to be partially revised or completely overturned.

In this chapter, the authors describe the corollary of the planetary collision hypothesis, and how planetary collisions lead to the extinction of ammonites that were originally widespread in the oceans. And referred to the "Signall-Lipps effect", which is used to refute evidence that the fossil evidence is unreasonable.

The Sixth Extinction Chapter 5 summary - Welcome to the Anthropocene (Ripple Double Crane Grapestone)

Uniformitarianism vs. Catastrophism The final debate makes the most recent with both as an essential part of long-term steady accumulation + sudden environmental change. Since mass extinctions have officially entered people's sights, the hypothesis of periodic mass extinctions has been put forward. 

Naturally, the mass extinction brought about by human behavior has also become a link in this cyclical history, and its remarkable symbol is that human behavior can make the underground sediments of this generation after hundreds of millions of years show the fossil changes brought about by human behavior, and in this way form a record of the existence and impact of human beings.

This section also mentions the first mass extinction, the end-Ordovician mass extinction. It ended the Ordovician radiation. The authors propose several hypotheses for the Ordovician mass extinction. 

The biological graptolite mentioned in this chapter became extinct in large numbers during this period. Finally, the author cites the concept of the Anthropocene, indicating that the Anthropocene may be included in the geological epoch.

"The now dominant paradigm is neither Cuvier's nor Darwin's, but combines key elements of both." "A unified theory of mass extinctions has emerged. Mass extinctions appear to have started at 26 million years In other words, extinctions occur in periodic bursts.”

The Sixth Extinction Chapter 6 summary - The Ocean Surrounding Us (Mediterranean ray limpets).

This chapter and the next chapter focus on the acidification of seawater caused by excessive carbon dioxide emissions which will make some organisms in the sea extinct. This chapter focuses on the acidification of seawater by carbon dioxide.

"Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, humans have burned enough fossil fuels to add 365 billion tons of carbon to the atmosphere." "If current trends continue, carbon dioxide concentrations will exceed 0.05 percent by 2050, almost twice the pre-industrial level. 

It will cause the global average temperature to rise by 2~4℃, which will trigger a series of world-changing events, including the disappearance of most existing glaciers, the inundation of low-altitude islands and coastal cities, and the collapse of the Arctic ice sheet Melt. 

"The pH index is very important, and our human body expends a lot of energy to ensure that our blood maintains a constant pH level. But some of these lower animals do not have the physiology to maintain an even pH." Marine biologists are just beginning to realize the dangers of acidification. 

"Unfortunately, the most obvious tipping point, where the ecosystem starts to collapse, is around a mean pH of around 7.8, which is expected to occur in the oceans in 2100." 

"By burning mineral deposits such as coal and oil, humans release carbon that has been sequestered over tens of millions of years back into the air.". "

The Sixth Extinction Chapter 7 summary - Acidification (Porous Staghorn Coral) 

This chapter mainly talks about the acidification of seawater due to the excessive discharge of carbon dioxide. Erosion and other factors, eventually coral reefs will die.

"Coral reefs grow in a vast area, like a belt around the belly of the earth, distributed between 30° north latitude and 30° south latitude." High levels of carbon dioxide in the air cause the pH of the "ocean" to drop. 

"The polyps that build reefs are very sensitive to saturation. ""Coral reefs are often compared with Yulin. In terms of the diversity of life forms, such comparisons are apt." 

"In the history of the earth, biological reefs like coral reefs have appeared and disappeared several times."

The Sixth Extinction Chapter 8 summary - Forests and Trees (Whistling double-winged fruit trees)

This chapter and the next chapter focus on the Amazon forest region. This chapter mainly discusses the impact of temperature rises on the Amazon forest region. Due to the diversity dimension gradient, the biodiversity in tropical forest regions is abnormally Rich. 

The author followed the researcher Silman through the 17 forest blocks he marked. The distribution of organisms in each block is different. The increase in global temperature changes the biological status of these 17 blocks, making them constantly Push forward to higher latitudes. Species-area relationships can be used to estimate the number of species extinct by humans.

" One theory is that more species live in the tropics because the evolutionary clock runs faster there. The more generations, the greater the chance of gene mutation. The second theory is that the tropics have more species because creatures in the tropics are pickier about their environment." 

"The "species-area relationship" is summarized as the formula S=cAz, where S is the number of species, A is the size of the area, and c and z are constants. When thinking about extinctions, the species-area relationship is key. What humans are doing to this world is actually equivalent to what we are reducing everywhere. 

"The theory that diversity is a function of time." "Another theory for the abundance of diversity in the tropics is that greater competition pushes species toward more specialized species that can co-exist in the same limited space."

The Sixth Extinction Chapter 9 summary - Lonely Island on the Road (Devil ants)

This chapter mainly explains that there is a very close and fixed survival relationship among various species in the Amazon forest. The division of the forest by human development has made many creatures The relationship between each other is difficult to maintain, which will lead to the decline of species diversity in the forest.

The Sixth Extinction Chapter 10 summary - New Pangea (Little Brown Bat)

This chapter explains the phenomenon of migration of a large number of creatures along with human traffic. Human actions have invalidated millions of years of species isolation and changed the global redistribution of organisms. Ultimately leading to a decline in global biodiversity. 

The little brown bat discussed in this chapter was originally a common species in some states in the continental United States, but with the invasion of pathogens, it became an endangered species in just a few years.

"Most potential invaders are not stored. The second outcome is called 'colonization'. Many species that settle may remain confined to the vicinity of where they have entered, or some may be completely harmless and go unnoticed. 
However, a certain number of invasive species completed the third step of the invasion process, that is, "diffusion." "If humans are counted as invasive species, then the process of the New Pan-Paleocontinent was as early as about 120,000 years ago. One step out of Africa." 

"The geographic "discovery" of the New World kicked off an unusually large-scale biological exchange race, the so-called "Columbus exchange," which took the progress of the Neo-Panteocontinent to a whole new level On.”."

The Sixth Extinction Chapter 11 summary - Rhinoceros ultrasound (Sumatran rhino)

This and the next chapter deal with the direct extinction of other species by humans. What this chapter wants to explain is that although large species with great advantages in evolution have no natural enemies because they are large enough, they still have the fate of avoiding extinction by humans. 

Due to its long reproductive cycle and low reproduction rate, as long as early humans capture a small number of giant animals every year, the giant animals will perish as the centuries accumulate, and then because the time span is too large, humans cannot realize that these species are going extinct.

"That's the advantage of being huge. It might be called the 'too big not to be afraid' strategy. From an evolutionary point of view, it's a good strategy. In fact, at different times in history, the Earth has been "Occupied by living organisms." "A very large mammal living in a state of fringe alcohol-breathing reproduction rates."

The Sixth Extinction Chapter 12 summary - Crazy Genes (Neanderthals)

Human behavior also led to the extinction of the Neanderthals in Africa who came out before humans. Although research has shown that during the extinction of this population, there was a phenomenon of mating with humans and retaining genetic genes. 

Today, except for Africans, other people have some Neanderthal genes, this phenomenon also occurred in the subsequently discovered Denisovans. (It is understandable that this phenomenon is so normal that the early European migration to North America caused a large number of Indian deaths.)

"Modern humans reached Europe about 40,000 years ago. After that, as long as they advanced to a certain Where Neanderthals lived, Neanderthals would disappear. The declines all fit the familiar pattern of extinction. Humans also bred with Neanderthals before humans finally wiped them out. 

Today Most people have a small amount of Neanderthal ancestry, up to about 4%.” “Only real modern humans began to have this kind of adventurous behavior, daring to float on the ocean where there is no land.” 

“Pa Beau thinks it might be possible to find the genetic basis behind our "madness" by comparing Neanderthal and human DNA."

The Sixth Extinction Chapter 13 summary - Feathered Things (Homo sapiens)

This chapter summarizes the meaning of the previous chapters.

Overall evaluation: 

The entire book is not difficult to read. Readers with basic common sense can easily understand all the ideas involved in the book. The writing of the work is not very serious. In addition to opinions and illustrations, most of the authors are reviewing the history of the subject, the lives of scientists, and their own fieldwork experience. 

The chapter arrangement of the book is obviously suspected of deliberately catering to the tastes of popular readers. The main points of the book can actually be written very concisely and cleanly, but the author has adopted a large number of narrative writing rather than explanatory writing, which greatly improves the readability of the work.

Conclusion of The Sixth Extinction

It's been a while since I finished reading this book. When I read the first chapter of Golden Frog, I just felt angry and helpless. 

Later, when the new crown epidemic broke out in China, seeing people dying every day, and worrying about the situation of my parents, I had no intention of continuing to read. 

Later, the domestic epidemic situation improved, and I was free to study again. The passages of stories in the book just make me feel that human beings destroy nature and hunt wild animals recklessly, and one day they will have to pay back. 

Later, the epidemic spread in Europe and the United States and finally became a global pandemic. Then I saw on the Internet that someone was driving away bats. 

It was also written in the book that bats in North America have been greatly reduced. Of course, this is also caused by humans in the final analysis.

As a normal person, I keep thinking, what can I do? Can we do our best to live in harmony with nature? For this I became vegetarian, I insisted on recycling garbage, and I never thought about living a luxurious life to reduce the waste of resources. 

If I have my own garden in the future, I will try my best to create a habitat for the surrounding wild animals. It's actually quite easy, just grow native plants. Of course, these may all be trivial things. 

I alone can't change anything. In fact, I also know that what I need to learn most is to influence others. Just like the author of this book, it should have influenced thousands of people.
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