Summary of The Sixth Extinction

An Unnatural History

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The Sixth Extinction book summary
Human activity is triggering the largest mass extinction since an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs.


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An asteroid slammed into Earth 66 million years ago, wiping out dinosaurs and decimating birds, mammals, plants and marine life. As New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert reports, that was the fifth time in 500 million years that events almost eradicated life on Earth. The planet is now suffering a “sixth extinction,” but, she writes, this time human beings are the agents of mass destruction. People transform the world with cities, roads and farms; cut down forests; and fill the atmosphere and oceans with unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide. Whole classes of amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles are on the road to annihilation; the world’s coral reefs may disappear by the end of the 21st century. Kolbert doesn’t sugarcoat her distressing content. She’s a terrific writer who leavens the darkest topics with restrained humor and illuminating stories. While always politically neutral, getAbstract recommends her warning call to policy makers, students, investors and business leaders who are concerned about humanity’s unique position in nature’s balancing act.

In this summary, you will learn

  • What incidents caused the five prehistoric “mass-extinction events”,
  • Why scientists believe Earth is now experiencing another mass extinction and
  • Why humans are responsible for – and endangered by – the impending “sixth extinction.”


“The Sixth Extinction”
The history of life on Earth alternates long spans of massive slow change punctuated by periods of catastrophic transformation. Normally, change comes so slowly that it remains imperceptible. Species adapt to shifting environments over innumerable generations and...
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About the Author

New Yorker staff writer, Elizabeth Kolbert wrote Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature and Climate Change and The Prophet of Love: And Other Tales of Power and Deceit.

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