On Extinction | Granta

  • Published: 06/10/2011
  • ISBN: 9781847081872
  • 158x20mm
  • 288 pages

On Extinction

Melanie Challenger

In Cornwall, hiking around the half-buried ruins of an old tin mine, Melanie Challenger started to think about the things that have disappeared from our world. When the gigantic bones of mammoths were first excavated from the Siberian permafrost in the eighteenth century, scientists were forced to consider a terrifying possibility: many species that had once flourished on the Earth no longer existed. For the first time, humans had to contemplate the idea of extinction.
Challenger became fascinated by this idea, and started to consider how we think about the things we have lost, and, indeed, how we come to lose them. From our destruction of the natural world to the human cultures that are rapidly dying out, On Extinction is a passionate exploration of these disappearances and why they should concern us. Challenger asks questions about how we’ve become destructive to our environment, our emotional responses to extinctions, and how these responses might shape our future relationship with nature. She travels to the abandoned whaling stations of South Georgia, the melting icescape of Antarctica and the Inuit camps of the Arctic, where she traces the links between human activities and environmental collapse. On Extinction is an account of Challenger’s journey that brings together ideas about cultural, biological and industrial extinction in a beautiful, thought-provoking and ultimately hopeful book.

Challenger's privilege is great, her courage exemplary, and no one could doubt her passion. This book is an urgent attempt to understand how we got into this mess, and how we might go forward, knowing that we are capable of causing, and of feeling, great loss

Kathleen Jamie, Guardian

[The] move," says Challenger, "from distinctive cultural knowledge born of the varied attributes of landscapes to the universal cultural knowledge of technologies is akin to the disappearance of diversity in nature." This book offers no remedy for the decline of the sublime in favour of the picturesque, but it does advise that we weigh our losses against our supposed gains.

Iain Finlayson, The Times

A strikingly peripatetic project, both geographically and intellectually ... her prose paintings are memorable and her digressions consistently thought provoking. The result is enjoyably ruminative

Peter Carty, Independent on Sunday

The Author

Melanie Challenger is the author of Galatea, her 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. During her research for On Extinction, she was a Fellow of the AHRC Centre for the Evolution of Cultural Diversity at University College London from 2007-2010 and International Fellow at the British Antarctic Survey for International Polar Year 2007-2008. Her work was also a recipient of the British Council Darwin Awards.

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