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 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, the cataclysm is us. In The Sixth Extinction, two-time winner of the National Magazine Award and New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert draws on the work of scores of researchers in half a dozen disciplines, accompanying many of them into the field: geologists who study deep ocean cores, botanists who follow the tree line as it climbs up the Andes, marine biologists who dive off the Great Barrier Reef. She introduces us to a dozen species, some already gone, others facing extinction, including the Panamian 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.
A Spectator Book of the Year
Goethe claimed to know what light was. Galileo and Einstein both confessed they didn’t. On the essential nature of light, and how it operates, the scientific jury is still out. There is still time, therefore, to listen to painters and poets on the subject. They, after all, spend their lives pursuing light and trying to tie it down.
Six Facets of Light is a series of meditations on this most elusive and alluring feature of human life. Set mostly on the Downs and coastline of East Sussex, the most luminous part of England, it interweaves a walker’s experiences of light in Nature with the observations, jottings and thoughts of a dozen writers and painters – and some scientists – who have wrestled to define and understand light. From Hopkins to Turner, Coleridge to Whitman, Fra Angelico to Newton, Ravilious to Dante, the mystery of light is teased out and pondered on. Some of the results are surprising.
By using mostly notebooks and sketchbooks, this book becomes a portrait of the transitoriness, randomness, swiftness, frustrations and quicksilver beauty that are the essence of light. It is a work to be enjoyed, pondered over, engaged with, provoked by; to be packed in the rucksack of every walker heading for the sea or the hills, or to be opened to bring that outside radiance within four dark town walls.