“The Sixth Extinction” by Elizabeth Kolbert (Henry Holt & Co., 2014)

Sixth Exinction
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Anyone who is in their right mind with a decent amount of common sense knows we’re doing a great job of messing up this planet, to the point where it may already be too far gone to turn things back to the way they were. One area we know we’ve made perhaps the most devastating impact, with overpopulation and pollution to name a couple causes, is with species extinction. This is the crux of The Sixth Extinction from Elizabeth Kolbert, bestselling author of Field Notes From a Catastrophe.

There have been a number of mass extinctions during the five billion year history of this planet The extinction of the dinosaurs is perhaps the most well known; another mass extinction before the dinosaurs almost ended all life on the planet. The reasons for these five previous mass extinctions run the full expected range from extreme conditions to natural disasters to meteors hitting the planet. But now Kolbert suggests, and has been corroborated by a number of scientists, that we are in the age of the sixth extinction where many unique species are being lost every year and it’s all our fault.

The Sixth Extinction is divided up into strong chapters that feel like entire books in themselves, each providing insight into a specific previous mass extinction, as well as some well known species that went extinct, such as the great auk and the American mastodon, and how. Kolbert also travels the world, meeting with scientists and discussing the current climate and where things lie with threats against coral along the Great Barrier Reef, bat populations in the United States that have recently been devastated due to a merciless fungus, as well as the declining honeybee populations to name a few..

The book never has a chance to slow down or get boring, because Kolbert keeps giving the reader facts and stories and perspectives that are both illuminating and shocking. It is a book that can be greedily read cover to cover in one night, or each chapter savored over a longer period of time. The one failing is perhaps there is little lesson or hope necessarily at the end for what can be done. Could this be because it is already a foregone conclusion that what happened to the dodo will happen to many more species if we don’t change our ways? Or perhaps simply learning and knowing what is discussed in the book and spreading the word about them will help change the mindset, for it is not until we as a planet work together to make a change that we will start making any great strides.

Originally written on June 27, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

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Field Notes From a Catastrophe  Welcome to the Greenhouse

“Cretaceous Dawn: 65 Million Years in the Past, the Journey Begins” by L. M. Graziano and M. S. A. Graziano (Leapfrog Press, 2008)

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The authors of Cretaceous Dawn –Lisa M. Graziano, former professor of Oceanography, writer and researcher; and Michael S. A. Graziano, professor of Neuroscience – are clearly experienced when tackling the subject of what life was like 65 millions years ago, during the age of the dinosaurs.  In an adventure style like that of Jurassic Park and Ray Bradbury’s short story “Sound of Thunder,” Cretaceous Dawn is a fun play on  what if people existed with dinosaurs.

Julian Whitney is a paleontologist and a college professor who feels his life has little to offer in the way of entertainment, and he spends his days teaching his classes and hoping something will happen between him and the attractive physics professor, Yariko.  Whitney is surprisingly called to Yariko’s government funded and guarded lab to check on photos of unusual beetles at the start of the book.   As he studies the photos that were taken very recently, he can’t believe what he is seeing: the insects appear to be of a species that hasn’t existed since the dinosaurs, which Whitney is used to seeing in fossilized form.

As Yariko and Whitney study the photos, her colleague, Dr. Shanker, starts up the quantum particle accelerator, while the two security guards return from lunch.  There is a sudden explosion.  Yariko, Whitney, Dr. Shanker and his dog (who was in the lab at the time) and one and a half security guards are miraculously transported back in time and find themselves alive and relatively well, living in the world of dinosaurs.  Meanwhile police chief Sharon Earles is left with a much destroyed physics lab, a government-funded project gone horribly wrong, and half the body of a guard.

Cretaceous Dawn is a compelling story with plenty of plot and subplot going on.   The authors do an excellent job of creating the juxtaposition between the 65 million year old world and the present day police investigation, keeping the reader interested until the end.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on October 24th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.