Over the last half a 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, we bear the responsibility for the cataclysm that is upon us.
Award-winning author Elizabeth Kolbert draws on the work of scores of researchers, including geologists who study deep ocean cores, botanists who follow the tree line of the Andes, and marine biologists who dive off the Great Barrier Reef. She introduces us to a dozen species, some already gone and others facing extinction, including the Panamanian golden frog, staghorn coral, the great auk, and the Sumatran rhino.
Through these stories, Kolbert provides a moving account of the disappearances occurring all around us and traces the evolution of extinction as concept, from its first articulation by Georges Cuvier in revolutionary Paris up through the present day. The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy. As Kolbert observes, it compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.