The Sixth Extinction

Charles Darwin Character Analysis

Famous English biologist and naturalist whose theory of natural selection formed the basis for modern evolutionary biology. At many points, Kolbert cites Darwin’s ideas (particularly the notion that life is a constant competition for resources) but notes that Darwin drastically underestimated the influence of human-caused extinctions (as did every notable scientist up until the mid-20th century).

Charles Darwin Quotes in The Sixth Extinction

The The Sixth Extinction quotes below are all either spoken by Charles Darwin or refer to Charles Darwin. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Mass-extinction and Morality Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Picador edition of The Sixth Extinction published in 2015.
Chapter 3 Quotes

Darwin's familiarity with human-caused extinction is also clear from On the Origin of Species. In one of the many passages in which he heaps scorn on the catastrophists, he observes that animals inevitably become rare before they become extinct, "we know this has been the progress of events with those animals which have been exterminated, either locally or wholly, through man's agency." It's a brief allusion and in its brevity, suggestive. Darwin assumes that his readers are familiar with such "events" and already habituated to them. He himself seems to find nothing remarkable or troubling about this.

Related Characters: Charles Darwin
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

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But how, then, to make sense of cases like the great auk or the Charles Island tortoise or, to continue the list, the dodo or the Steller's sea cow? These animals had obviously not been done in by a rival species gradually evolving some competitive advantage. They had all been killed off by the same species, and all quite suddenly—in the case of the great auk and the Charles Island tortoise over the course of Darwin's own lifetime. Either there had to be a separate category for human-caused extinction, in which case people really did deserve their "special status" as a creature outside of nature, or space in the natural order had to be made for cataclysm, in which case, Cuvier— distressingly—was right.

Related Characters: Georges Cuvier, Charles Darwin
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 4 Quotes

Darwin's successors inherited the "much slow extermination” problem. The uniformitarian view precluded sudden or sweeping change of any kind. But the more that was learned about the fossil record, the more difficult it was to maintain that an entire age spanning tens of millions of years, had somehow or other gone missing. This growing tension led to a series of increasingly tortured explanations. Perhaps there had been some sort of “crisis,” at the close of the Cretaceous but it had to have been a very slow crisis. Maybe the losses at the end of the period did constitute a "mass extinction."

Related Characters: Charles Darwin
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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Charles Darwin Character Timeline in The Sixth Extinction

The timeline below shows where the character Charles Darwin appears in The Sixth Extinction. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3: The Original Penguin
Mass-extinction and Morality Theme Icon
Science and Paradigm Shifts Theme Icon
...of species to go extinct. The opposite of catastrophism is uniformitarianism, which is closer to Darwin’s idea of species and landscape gradually changing in tandem. (full context)
Mass-extinction and Morality Theme Icon
Science and Paradigm Shifts Theme Icon
One of Lyell’s most important readers was Charles Darwin, who was in his early twenties at the same time that Lyell was a major... (full context)
Mass-extinction and Morality Theme Icon
Natural Selection and Mass-extinction Theme Icon
Science and Paradigm Shifts Theme Icon
...world was changing in small, almost immeasurable ways—he didn’t believe in any theory of evolution. Darwin disagreed with Lyell, and proceeded to apply Lyell’s principles of gradual change to life, not... (full context)
Mass-extinction and Morality Theme Icon
Natural Selection and Mass-extinction Theme Icon
Science and Paradigm Shifts Theme Icon
...the same time that Newton and Wooley were returning from their journey to Iceland, Charles Darwin was publishing a revolutionary paper on the process of natural selection. Darwin’s ideas immediately impressed... (full context)
Mass-extinction and Morality Theme Icon
Natural Selection and Mass-extinction Theme Icon
Science and Paradigm Shifts Theme Icon
Although Darwin was clearly aware of human-caused extinction, he seems not to have found it a serious... (full context)
Chapter 7: Dropping Acid
Mass-extinction and Morality Theme Icon
Environmental Change and Human Nature Theme Icon
...and he didn’t understand how it was formed. More than half a century later, Charles Darwin visited a coral reef in Tahiti, and concluded that it was really a large atoll... (full context)
Mass-extinction and Morality Theme Icon
Natural Selection and Mass-extinction Theme Icon
Environmental Change and Human Nature Theme Icon
...that, theoretically, the waters surrounding Australia should be barren. This is a puzzle that Charles Darwin was the first to point out, one which scientists have yet to solve (full context)
Chapter 8: The Forest and the Trees
Mass-extinction and Morality Theme Icon
Natural Selection and Mass-extinction Theme Icon
During the Pleistocene period of Earth’s history, the planet became significantly cooler. Charles Darwin speculated that, during such periods of global cooling, animals tended to migrate toward the equator... (full context)
Chapter 10: The New Pangaea
Mass-extinction and Morality Theme Icon
Environmental Change and Human Nature Theme Icon
Science and Paradigm Shifts Theme Icon
Darwin’s ideas are helpful to understanding the significance of the bat die-off. Darwin argued that, for... (full context)
Chapter 11: The Rhino Gets an Ultrasound
Mass-extinction and Morality Theme Icon
Natural Selection and Mass-extinction Theme Icon
Environmental Change and Human Nature Theme Icon
Science and Paradigm Shifts Theme Icon
...discovered at Big Bone Lick went extinct because of a “great modification in climate.” Charles Darwin agreed, writing that the end of an Ice Age must have killed off creatures like... (full context)