The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, Elizabeth Kolbert (2014)

81HiLi7irkLYou can probably relax about those new year’s resolutions, folks. Kolbert’s brisk, oddly chipper account of previous mass extinctions and the current one unfolding in not-so-slow motion is a terrific and informative read, and also had, for me, an unexpected liberating effect. Reading it reminded me of reading my beloved Cioran: “Although I feel that my tragedy is the greatest in history–greater than the fall of empires–I am nevertheless aware of my total insignificance.” This probably isn’t the response to Kolbert’s work I’m supposed to be having; it’s certainly not Sierra Club approved. But I don’t think you have to be a thanatophiliac to walk away from this book feeling less like buying a Prius and more like having a nice walk with a good friend, followed by a big martini. The jig is so, so up.

Besides death, the book’s other great underlying subject is time, which is so much harder to talk about. Death has so many wonderful qualities — visibility, insistence, surprise. Time’s like air, a dream. Invisible, indifferent, repetitive. We can never know enough of it to get a sense of its entirety. Which is longer, two million years or two hundred million? We think we know, but we have no idea.

Anyway, sorry, kind of going off the deep end there. Super read. Get it as an ebook and save a tree.

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