|The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
by Elizabeth Kolbert
Narrated by Anne Twomey
I read this book a couple of months ago with Doing Dewey‘s nonfiction book club, but luckily I took notes.
This book documents the mass extinction that Kolbert (along with quite a few scientists) believes is due to humans. It’s not only about hunting animals out of existence. It’s about carrying invasive species (including animals, plants and fungus) into new environments. These species are destructive to foreign ecological systems because each system did not develop in parallel with the new species – thus the system did not develop immunity and protection against the invasive species. For instance, our travels around the world transport fungus that have caused plague among bats world-wide, and frogs in the Southern Americas. This book is mainly a scientific endeavor written by a journalist, but we also get to follow Kolbert as she shadows scientists around the world in their quests to study and prevent extinction.
At first, this book made me feel guilty for the extinctions that humans have caused. But then I realized that we are a kind of invasive species too. Is it really our fault that we developed minds and then tools capable of carrying us around the world? Had we any idea of the destruction that we would cause? No. We were just doing what any species does – procreate, expand, and diversify. I also feel that Kolbert was catastrophizing a bit in her book. Although humans have certainly caused a lot of damage to our planet, I don’t think we are capable of destroying a world that has survived so many other massively destructive events. We are just another blip in the planet’s development.
2012 Book 154: The Social Conquest of Earth
Written by Edward O. Wilson, Narrated by Jonathan Hogan
Reason for Reading: Group read in our LibraryThing “Science, Religion, History” group.
In The Social Conquest of Earth, Wilson expounds upon the theories that were set forth in his classic work Sociobiology. His main thesis is that group selection, not kin selection, drove evolution and helped us to develop societies. He compares the way human society developed to the way ant “society” developed (ants are his specialty). He suggests reasons why religion and xenophobia would have originally developed as protective characteristics of groups. This book covers a large swath of material…from ants to human prehistory, to history, to today. I think he did a pretty good job organizing the book considering what a wide topic he was covering. His theories were clear and for the most part convincing. I think Wilson is an atheist, but he did a pretty good job of stating his opinions in an agnostic sort of way to avoid insulting the faithful. The only statement that rather jarred me was when he suggested that there surely exist better ways to find spiritual fulfillment than total submission to God. This statement jarred me because it seemed he was saying that this religious process developed for a reason, but that reason is now obsolete. However, in an earlier chapter, he pointed out that homosexuality developed for a reason, so homophobia is not helpful to society. I wholeheartedly agree with him that homophobia is hateful and ignorant. But it is not particularly scientific to say homosexuality developed for a reason, therefore it’s good…religion developed for a reason, but it’s obsolete now. What are his reasons for deciding one is good and the other is obsolete? His reasons are emotional rather than scientific. But I’m just being nitpicky here. I think the book was well-written, interesting, and approachable by a non-scientific audience. I had no issues with Hogan’s narration–he read the book well, but it wasn’t anything worth raving about.