cover image The Sixth Extinction: Journeys Among the Lost and Left Behind

The Sixth Extinction: Journeys Among the Lost and Left Behind

Terry Glavin, . . St. Martin's/Dunne, $24.95 (318pp) ISBN 978-0-312-36231-7

Five major epochs of mass extinction have marked the past 440 million years, but in this striking and original work, Glavin (The Last Great Sea ) argues that the most devastating is today's "sixth" extinction—in which the world is losing many of its cultures, languages and local traditions along with its wildlife. In a fresh and eloquent synthesis of diverse phenomena, Glavin describes some of the consequences. In the Russian Far East, for example, where the rivers have been depleted of their fish, aboriginal fishing communities are losing knowledge of the old means of survival as well as their livelihood. On the Lofoten Islands in Norway, environmental laws protect the whales but lock the whalers out of their traditional way of life. Along North America's west coast, many plant species have been lost to industrial agriculture—along with the words for them in native cultures. Glavin finds a few bright spots, such as in Costa Rica, where nearly extinct birds survive because land is protected, and a village in the eastern Himalayas that consciously fosters diversity. He argues that humanity's only hope lies in places like these, where diverse ideas, choices and living things are allowed to flourish. His extensive annotated bibliography, embedded in the end notes, adds to the significance of this insightful and poignant book. (Apr.)