This book does a great job showing how mankind has effected the Earth and it’s environmental ecosystems, not just in the modern era but for thousands of years. Everything the author discusses is well documented or shown to be very well researched hypotheses.
There have been five mass extinction events: the Cretaceous-Paleogene, the Triassic-Jurassic, the Permian-Triassic, the Late Devonian, and the Ordovician-Silurian. The Sixth Extinction is now in progress in the current Anthropocene (Age of Man) era.
Kolbert begins the book showing how early scientists did not believe in extinction until Cuvier, Lyell and even Darwin pushed forward various hypotheses based on reading of the fossil record.
She then moves into where man starts having a mass effect. We are not just warming the planet but excessive CO2 is acidifying the world’s ocean. We are destroying habit. And in our world travels, we are transporting species out of their native habitat, in effect creating a new Pangea with less diversity. Those of us living in Florida in the United States know all too well the problem invasive species pose.
Many may think that mankind just started having this adverse effect beginning with the Industrial Revolution. However, this book gives compelling evidence that we have been decimating species for thousands of years. As she put it in the book, “Though it might be nice to imagine there once was a time when man lived in harmony with nature, it’s not clear that he ever really did.” She writes about the growing body of evidence that man was instrumental in the extinction of the meg-fauna between 40-60 thousand years ago.
In the later chapters, she writes about more recent events such as the great bat die-off (due to an invasive fungus), the Sumatran Rhino and the destruction of species we may not even know about as we destroy rain forest habitat.
One reviewer (http://viiamanda.blogspot.com/2014/03/serial-killer-who-me.html) called this book a good horror novel. That is a valid summation. This information in this book is very depressing and at times downright frightening. However, Kolbert infuses a little humor and just the right time. She also hints that there is still hope and time for reversing some things.
A quote from the book sums it all up very well: “A sign in the Hall of Biodiversity offers a quote from the Stanford ecologist Paul Ehrlich: IN PUSHING OTHER SPECIES TO EXTINCTION, HUMANITY IS BUSY SAWING OFF THE LIMB ON WHICH IT PERCHES.”