by Melanie Challenger

On Extinction

Published Date : December 11, 2012


: 6 x 9
: English
: 978-1-61902-018-4


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.”

About the Author

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.


Praise for On Extinction: How We Became Estranged from Nature

“Indeed, this book is so thoroughly Sebaldian that it might as well be wearing his trademark tweed.” —Financial Times

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

“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.” —The Guardian (UK)

“Challenger is an exquisite writer . . . It’s to be hoped that this beautiful, troubling book will encourage more people to regain their interest in the outside world: the planet we both belong to and seem curiously driven to destroy.” —The Observer
(Olivia Laing, author of To the River)

“Surely the most poetic book about the environment published this year, Melanie Challenger’s On Extinction (Granta, £20), looked at how we in the industrialised west have become, as she puts it, “estranged from nature”. Challenger is a poet of some standing…her descriptions of the places she visits are dazzlingly good, notably her writing on Iqaluit in the Canadian Arctic, where the Inuit, facing the loss of their language and their “land ways”, are as endangered as the polar bears they share the ice with, and the abandoned whaling station at Grytviken on the Island of South Georgia – once responsible for driving whale populations to the brink of extinction, now itself in the process of being erased from the face of the Earth.” —Scotsman Books of the Year 2011, Roger Cox

“Written over a number of years, On Extinction is plump with sad things. Challenger acutely realises the ravaged landscapes of capitalist exploitation on the edge of wilderness: from abandoned whaling stations in the Falkland Islands and Hudson’s Bay to old tin mines in Cornwall. She has considerable linguistic power, classical and historical erudition, and is particularly impressive in her discussions of the roots of words as a way of understanding culture (“paradise”, for instance, from the Old Persian apairi-daeza, an orchard enclosed by a wall). A direct literary descendant of the romantics, Challenger wrings poetry out of every stage of her journeys. She is also a knowledgeable anthropologist…At her best Challenger is an excellent and endearing writer, considered, deeply interested and perceptive, a fine watcher of man and nature.” —New Zealand Listener, Richard Reeves

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