On Extinction by Melanie Challenger
View Gallery


On Extinction

How We Became Estranged from Nature

List Price: $17.95

October 15, 2013 | Paperback | 6 x 9, 352 Pages | ISBN 9781619021945

“Amid this solid research, there is fine and truly poetic prose… a strangeness is evoked, a strangeness that conveys how, in spite of all our erudition, we walk the earth in the 21st century as in a dream." —New York Times Book Review

Realizing the link between her own estrangement from nature and the cultural shifts that led to a dramatic rise in extinctions, award-winning writer Melanie Challenger travels in search of the stories behind these losses. From an exploration of an abandoned mine in England to an Antarctic sea voyage to South Georgia’s old whaling stations, from a sojourn in South America to a stay among an Inuit community in Canada, she uncovers species, cultures, and industries touched by extinction. Accompanying her on this journey are the thoughts of anthropologists, biologists, and philosophers who have come before her. Drawing on their words as well as firsthand witness and ancestral memory, Challenger traces the mindset that led to our destructiveness and proposes a path of redemption rooted in our emotional responses. This sobering yet illuminating book looks beyond natural devastation to examine “why” and “what’s next.”

MELANIE CHALLENGER is the author of Galatea, an award-winning first collection of poems, and co-author, with Zlata Filipovic, of Stolen Voices, a history of twentieth-century conflict compiled through war diaries. She has received a British Council Darwin Award for her work. She lives in the Scottish Highlands.


On Extinction is a strange hybrid of travelogue and natural science, misted over with a wanderer’s lonesome observations of a world in the process of disappearing… Amid this solid research, there is fine and truly poetic prose… The big loops of this peregrinating work intersect in interesting ways…a strangeness is evoked, a strangeness that conveys how, in spite of all our erudition, we walk the earth in the 21st century as in a dream.” —New York Times Book Review

“Erudite and impassioned, Melanie Challenger’s On Extinction is a ruminative examination on the way our 21st century world is changing quickly . . . A timely and important book, On Extinction will make you think, one of the finest things a book can do.” —Dallas Morning News

“[Challenger] has a keen awareness of how the past is layered beneath the present, and how transient both natural and human systems are… [On Extinction] lets the reader observe a creative and intelligent mind at work on problems that face all of us.” —Columbus Dispatch

“Award-winning poet Challenger imbues this ambitious meditation with the courage of an explorer, the scientific curiosity of a botanist and a geologist, the excited digging of an archeologist, the compassion of a cultural anthropologist, the long reach of a historian, and the urgent concern of an environmentalist… Throughout this beautifully written, moving, and important book, Challenger yearns to find that feeling of belonging to a particular place. Her connection, one comes to feel, is to the past and present of our whole precarious planet.” —Publishers Weekly Starred Review

“A deep look at the human capacity for extinction twined with roamings to the far ends of the earth, from poet and fledgling natural historian Challenger…She has a rangy curiosity that extends well past ignorance and alienation as the sole agents of the man-made extinction…A formidable inquiry into why the marvels of nature and the distinctiveness of cultures are constantly imperiled.” —Kirkus

“A book which eloquently explores the unhallowedness of species extinctions and which also depicts humanity’s resultant bereftness: their loss is ours.” —Jay Griffiths, author of A Country Called Childhood and Savage Grace

On Extinction is a bold and beguiling reflection on our capacity to destroy and to self-destruct, with passages that frequently take the breath away.” —Adam Thorpe, author of Ulverton

“This book is both lovely and brawny. Rooted in the past, it offers safe advice for the predicament we now find ourselves in.” —Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature

Related Products