The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert

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. 

Cro-Magnon, Brian Fagan

2012 Book 93: Cro-Magnon, by Brian Fagan (6/24/2012)

Categories: Science

Reason for Reading: Interest in the evolution of humans

My Review 4/5 stars
Cro-Magnon, by Brian Fagan introduces what is currently known (and speculated) about Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals. Fagan spices up his narrative with imaginative vignettes of Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons as they may have lived. I imagine such vignettes would appeal to most everyone in the general public, including teens, though they may be a little irritating to a hard-core scientist who isn’t interested in imaginative speculation (just a guess…I loved them!). Another excellent feature of this book is that it has incorporated historic scientific discoveries about prehistoric peoples with modern science like mitochondrial DNA tracing. Again, this feature would be of interest to most of the general public, but isn’t meant for experts–there are a lot of simplifications for the sake of clarity. I think this book is an excellent introduction to prehistoric peoples that could be enjoyed by both adults and teens (even precocious pre-teens).

Calculating God, by Robert J. Sawyer

2012 Book 18: Calculating God, by Robert J. Sawyer (1/29/2012)

An alien lands in Toronto with hopes of studying the ROM’s fossil collection; meanwhile she provides “scientific evidence” for the existence of God. This book had a good idea with poor execution. Sawyer completely ignored the “show-don’t-tell” rule of novel-writing. The book is a clod of sci-religious dialog decorated with a thin veneer of plot. The scientific evidence consisted of debates about: 1)What are the odds? and 2) Where did altruistic behavior come from? Neither argument is fresh, but it’s interesting to have it all thrown into the mouth of an alien (who is also using facts that only the fictional aliens know to support her pro-God arguments). The second argument falls flat since cooperative behavior (i.e. “altruism” as Sawyer was defining it) has evolved in more than just humans. Also, Sawyer adds a short punt about abortion. Although I completely agree with his point of view, I don’t read novels to get a lecture on these views. SHOW-don’t-tell!!!! On the other hand, this book won the Audie award, which means it had a fantastic performance—which I enjoyed on a long car trip I just took. That made the book worth it for me. 3/5 stars