Elizabeth Kolbert The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

Last updated date: June 17, 2019

DWYM Score
9.4

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We looked at the top 1 Non-Fiction Books and dug through the reviews from 10 of the most popular review sites including Good Reads, The Guardian, Medium, Scientific American, Washington Independent Review of Books, Redbery Books, The Boston Globe, NY Books, Vail Daily, Opportunity Muse and more. Through this analysis, we've determined the best Non-Fiction Book you should buy.

Overall Take

In our analysis of 88 expert reviews, the Elizabeth Kolbert Elizabeth Kolbert The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History placed 8th when we looked at the top 10 products in the category. For the full ranking, see below.

Editor's Note July 2, 2019:
Checkout The Best Non-Fiction Book for a detailed review of all the top non-fiction books.

Expert Summarized Score
9.7
10 expert reviews
User Summarized Score
9.0
1,692 user reviews
Our Favorite Video Reviews
What experts liked
And in The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert, a staff writer for the New Yorker, offers well-composed snapshots of history, theory and observation that will fascinate, enlighten and appal many readers.
- The Guardian
February 14, 2014 | Full review
Kolbert brings together a scientist’s precision and a traveler’s curiosity to a journalistic exploration of the story of species extinction. She is honest with her presentation of the matter, carefully calling out her facts and sources and doing little to explicitly draw attention to herself, while in the back of your mind, the reader cannot help picturing her like some kind of Indiana Jones figure, the action hero slash anthropologist, traveling to guano-covered islands in the Arctic Ocean, to tropical rain forests in Central America, diving off Mediterranean coasts, and donning Tyvek suits and latex gloves before stepping, in the service of scientific learning, onto a pile of dead bats in a cave in upstate New York.
- Medium
March 4, 2015 | Full review
Fittingly, the book closes with a short chapter on Homo sapiens and an unflinching refusal to sugarcoat the ways we have broken our world.
- Scientific American
February 1, 2014 | Full review
Her easy, matter-of-fact narrative navigates a large volume of complex studies and discovery so fluidly that readers whose memory of the Ordovician-Silurian and Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinctions may be a little rusty will not get lost in a sea of scientific details. The book also contains ample graphs and illustrations, which provide further explanation for the reader.
- Washington Independent Review of Books
June 4, 2014 | Full review
She explores the whole concept of humans learning to accept the idea that species had existed previously and gone extinct, and this understanding was key to development of the whole concept of evolution and natural selection. Kolbert does a great job documenting how the understanding of human impacts on extinctions of organisms has greatly expanded in recent decades from human impact on megafauna at the end of the Ice Age to devastation of Amazon rainforests in recent times. She ties recent extinction risk with impact of climate changes and likeliness of future impacts.
- Redbery Books
March 26, 2017 | Full review
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about her surprisingly breezy, entirely engrossing, and frequently entertaining tour through a half-billion years of the ups and precipitous downs of life on Earth (especially the downs) is Kolbert's uncanny ability to induce smiles, snorts, and outright laughter as one reads about mass extinction, including humanity's possible demise. It occurred to me at one point that if we do go the way of the ammonites and the mastodon, one of the human traits to disappear forever would be the capacity to crack wise in the face of oblivion.
- The Boston Globe
February 23, 2014 | Full review
The old idea of an earth with relatively static natural systems fit more than just the biblical evidence. It also fit the common sense of most observers. In a way, it still does. As Elizabeth Kolbert makes clear in her excellent new book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, nothing about who we are or how we’ve evolved as a species makes it easy for us to perceive the depth of geological time, to feel it in our bones the way we feel the passing of the seasons.
- NY Books
March 20, 2014 | Full review
Based on cumulative studies of Earth’s geological record, it is understood that there have been five times in the planet’s history when environmental changes were so extreme that “the diversity of life” collapsed. Kolbert details the prevailing belief, based on modern and ongoing analysis, that humans are actively impacting the biodiversity of the planet, and to such an extent that we are now living in what has been dubbed the Anthropocene, a period of geological time that reflects the expectation that mankind will leave behind its own “global stratigraphic signature.”
- Vail Daily
January 28, 2017 | Full review
I found The Sixth Extinction to be a thoroughly researched, well-documented, and engaging study about the human impact on our environment and its diversity of life.
- Opportunity Muse
December 24, 2017 | Full review
What experts didn't like
A possible disappointment with the book was that Kolbert does not provide an extensive ending of recommendations.
- Redbery Books
March 26, 2017 | Full review
She ends the book on a disturbing and tragically ironic note. Our capacity to change the world, she writes, "is also the capacity to destroy it" — and ourselves. And that capacity, she observes, "is probably indistinguishable from the qualities that made us human to begin with."
- The Boston Globe
February 23, 2014 | Full review
Sometimes, though, I feel like her style of writing gets convoluted and difficult to follow. For instance, the author occasionally used a set of dashes to emphasize independent clauses to help clarify the main theme of the sentence.
- Opportunity Muse
December 24, 2017 | Full review

From The Manufacturer

Elizabeth Kolbert is a staff writer at The New Yorker. She is the author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change. She lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts, with her husband and children.

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An Overview On Non-Fiction Books

  • Before breaking into the world of non-fiction novels, decide what sub-genre you are most interested in reading about. This will help narrow down your search in this broad genre.
  • Talk to a librarian about any new authors that are getting great reviews. They will have first-hand feedback from readers of those novels.
  • Use the resources at your fingertips, such as the internet, to research. There are plenty of websites that offer book reviews. So utilize them and find a great non-fiction novel to get started reading today.
  • If you are taking a college course and want supporting documentation on a topic you are learning about, the non-fiction novels will definitely add some dimension to your education.

DYWM Fun Fact

  • The psychology niche offers non-fiction readers outrageous and factual stories, such as “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Trials” by Oliver Sacks.
  • “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote was supposedly the very first non-fiction novel ever written.
  • Among the top 100 most popular non-fiction books are “The History of the World” by Walter Raleigh, “Common Sense” by Tom Paine, “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin” by Benjamin Franklin and “Tales from Shakespeare” by Charles and Mary Lamb.
  • Another term for non-fiction novels is literary non-fiction.
  • Non-fiction does not discriminate by age or ethnicity. Every age can read and enjoy a book from the non-fiction genre. These days, non-fiction novels are becoming increasingly incorporated into education and the lives of young adults.
  • Good Sense Reading offers a list of age-classified, non-fiction books for parents to utilize on their website.

The Non-Fiction Book Buying Guide

There’s nothing better than a great book. Some prefer an imaginative story or fiction book while others thrive on non-fiction, factual storylines that tell us of real events. The non-fiction genres offer readers an incredible glimpse into the lifestyles and characters of actual people but often written with a dramatic flair. Truman Capote, the author of “In Cold Blood,” was said to have started this genre in 1965 when the novel was published (although, this is often not believed since there are several other non-fiction novels published previous to this date). There are countless sub-genres within the non-fiction novel genre, so be sure to check them all out before making your purchase.

There are quite a few ways that authors have approached non-fiction novels. Although the characters are real people and most of the facts are actual, there can be some imaginative writing in between, especially in conversations and such. The other approach is packed with all facts and strictly to the point, so the reader doesn’t have to guess what is factual versus imaginative. Both are interesting reads; however, you’ll have to decide for yourself which is most captivating.

Perhaps one of the most well-known sub-genres of non-fiction novels is a memoir or autobiography. Most have read a memoir in part, if not in entirety, during their school years. Memoirs are perhaps the most accurate works you will find in the genre since they are narrated by the individual themselves. In the autobiography, “Educated: A Memoir” by Tara Westover, readers will get an entire picture of a woman overcoming her lack of primary education and isolation when she enters the intimidating realm of college. Another incredible memoir is “Etched in Sand” by Regina Calcaterra. She relives her abusive childhood in this autobiography to show readers that you can not only survive but overcome trials and tribulations that befall you at a young age. The autobiography sub-genre offers people the chance to walk in someone else’s shoes and relive the experiences that shaped them. If you are a fact seeker, autobiographies will give you the most accurate account of a person’s life.

Within the sub-genre of autobiography, readers will find many narratives of famous people. If you are interested in pop culture and would like to learn more about how people rise to fame, this category is right up your alley. The book, “Walk to Beautiful” by musician Jimmy Wayne is one of the best non-fiction novels out there. He discusses the difficulties of being poor and the disorganization of the broken foster care system, based on his personal life experiences. A perfect combination of reality and fame come together in this category.

For a thriller-type read, the true crime sub-genre is where you’ll want to look for a book. This category is typically packed with mystery, violence, law and forensics — all based on actual events. The novels are usually embellished with creative writing here and there, but the main storyline is factual and true to the real events. In the book, “Killers of the Flower Moon” by David Grann, you will find the retelling of the murders of several people in the wealthy community of Osage Nation in Oklahoma. You will find all the thrills in this non-fiction novel along with an accurate depiction of events around the murders. True crime non-fiction books are just the thing if you want to learn more about a specific historical crime.

There are countless other categories in the non-fiction novel genre. They have so much to offer from education to insight and instructions. Non-fiction educational options typically involve history books, science stories, psychology novels and literary novels. Whenever you want to travel, you will surely pick up a travel novel, and same with self-help. If you want to learn about sports, you’ll find facts stick with you when you read a non-fiction novel based on that sport. Technology, house and garden and social science are even more categories you’ll discover when you delve into non-fiction novels, and you won’t find a better way to learn and get inspired than through the books within this genre.

No matter what your walk of life is, non-fiction novels will give you the tools you need to constantly be improving yourself, increasing your knowledge and learning with a multi-faceted approach. Non-fiction novels of all categories should be a staple in every home.