NATIONAL BESTSELLER • The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Sixth Extinction returns to humanity’s transformative impact on the environment, now asking: After doing so much damage, can we change nature, this time to save it?
RECOMMENDED BY PRESIDENT OBAMA AND BILL GATES • SHORTLISTED FOR THE WAINWRIGHT PRIZE FOR WRITING • ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The Washington Post • ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: Time, Esquire, Smithsonian Magazine, Vulture, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal • “Beautifully and insistently, Kolbert shows us that it is time to think radically about the ways we manage the environment.”—Helen Macdonald, The New York Times
That man should have dominion “over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth” is a prophecy that has hardened into fact. So pervasive are human impacts on the planet that it’s said we live in a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene.
In Under a White Sky, Elizabeth Kolbert takes a hard look at the new world we are creating. Along the way, she meets biologists who are trying to preserve the world’s rarest fish, which lives in a single tiny pool in the middle of the Mojave; engineers who are turning carbon emissions to stone in Iceland; Australian researchers who are trying to develop a “super coral” that can survive on a hotter globe; and physicists who are contemplating shooting tiny diamonds into the stratosphere to cool the earth.
One way to look at human civilization, says Kolbert, is as a ten-thousand-year exercise in defying nature. In The Sixth Extinction, she explored the ways in which our capacity for destruction has reshaped the natural world. Now she examines how the very sorts of interventions that have imperiled our planet are increasingly seen as the only hope for its salvation. By turns inspiring, terrifying, and darkly comic, Under a White Sky is an utterly original examination of the challenges we face.
Pulitzer-winner Kolbert (The Sixth Extinction) focuses once again on the Anthropocene in this illuminating study of humans' "control of nature." Humans have already changed the natural world, she writes, and now are innovating to counter the fallout. As she surveys climate-related discoveries, Kolbert describes barriers erected to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes after the carp were brought to America in 1963 to "keep aquatic weeds in check." She also tells of the divers who conduct a yearly "census" on the Devil's Hole pupfish, a threatened species surviving in a single pond in the Mojave Desert. Kolbert notes the irony and ingenuity of humans battling natural processes to which they have contributed: the dams and levees along the Mississippi River, for instance, were "built to keep southern Louisiana dry" but have caused a massive "land-loss crisis" due to flooding elsewhere in the state. Along the way, Kolbert covers interventions on the cutting edge of science, such as "assisted evolution," which would help coral reefs endure warmer oceans. Her style of immersive journalism (which involves being hit by a jumping carp, observing coral sex, and watching as millennia-old ice is pulled from the ice sheets of Greenland) makes apparent the challenges of "the whole-earth transformation" currently underway. This investigation of global change is brilliantly executed and urgently necessary.
An exceptional reading experience
Beautiful writing about complicated, sometimes paradoxical, subject matter. Amazingly, underneath it all, it’s clear she finds much to be amused by in the human condition. I would have given a sixth star if that were possible.