The Next Species: Examining humanity’s past and potential future

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Next Species by Michael Tennesen non fiction book reviewsThe Next Species by Michael Tennesen

The Next Species: The Future of Evolution in the Aftermath of Man, by Michael Tennesen, is an engaging, informative overview of the history of life on this planet and humanity’s impact on that life (mostly for ill), followed by a look into the future and what might happen were humanity to go extinct or diverge into a different species.

He begins with a trip to the rain forest in the Andes, cataloging the rich diversity of life in the relatively small area (“The tropical Andes contain about a sixth of the world’s plant life in less than 1 percent of its land area… more than 1,724 species of birds in an area the size of New Hampshire”) and segues from this richness to a discussion of the consensus belief that we are in the midst of a sixth great extinction.

Over the course of The Next Species, he details those other extinctions, discussing their speculated causes, their impact, and how long it took for life to recover from each, all placed in the context of what is currently happening with regards to impacts such as climate change, deforestation, ocean acidification, overfishing, habitat destruction, etc. He wanders back and forth in time and place, moving smoothly from current day to several billion years ago, from the Andes to the Antarctic to Africa.

Tennesen is just as all-encompassing and detailed in examining humanity’s impact, tracing the evolutionary impact on elephants of the ivory trade (“Poaching put evolutionary pressure on animals with tusks, and tusks on elephants began to disappear… Females aged thirty to thirty-five were about 50 percent tuskless… Nature now selects for tuskless males as well as females. Adapting to man is currently wildlife’s greatest evolutionary challenge”), the effect of releasing starlings in early America, or the impact of snakes on Guam or in the Florida Everglades.

He begins his discussion of humanity’s impact from the very beginning, laying out what is currently known of the development of Homo sapiens and tracing the historical findings that have filled in the fossil record, as well as the evidence for our ancestors’ impact on animals and the environment through hunting, agriculture, and other events. This section moves into a discussion of how humanity is continuing to evolve and then shifts into consideration of what the future might bring.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsPart of that future includes possible speciation, and Tennesen looks at the several ways that might occur, such as genetic screening, cultural isolation, a global catastrophe wiping out most of us, as well as a few other pathways.

The Next Species is clear, thorough, engaging, and well crafted — moving easily and smoothly in time and space. Tennesen’s voice, meanwhile, is personal and engaging, without becoming preachy or dogmatic, making The Next Species an excellent pick up. Pairing it with The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert would make for a great one-two.

Order The Next Species here.

Published March 17, 2015. While examining the history of our planet and actively exploring our present environment, science journalist Michael Tennesen describes what life on earth could look like after the next mass extinction. A growing number of scientists agree we are headed toward a mass extinction, perhaps in as little as 300 years. Already there have been five mass extinctions in the last 600 million years, including the Cretaceous Extinction, during which an asteroid knocked out the dinosaurs. Though these events were initially destructive, they were also prime movers of evolutionary change in nature. And we can see some of the warning signs of another extinction event coming, as our oceans lose both fish and oxygen. In The Next Species, Michael Tennesen questions what life might be like after it happens. Tennesen discusses the future of nature and whether humans will make it through the bottleneck of extinction. Without man, could the seas regenerate to what they were before fishing vessels? Could life suddenly get very big as it did before the arrival of humans? And what if man survives the coming catastrophes, but in reduced populations? Would those groups be isolated enough to become distinct species? Could the conquest of Mars lead to another form of human? Could we upload our minds into a computer and live in a virtual reality? Or could genetic engineering create a more intelligent and long-lived creature that might shun the rest of us? And how would we recognize the next humans? Are they with us now? Tennesen delves into the history of the planet and travels to rainforests, canyons, craters, and caves all over the world to explore the potential winners and losers of the next era of evolution. His predictions, based on reports and interviews with top scientists, have vital implications for life on earth today.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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3 comments

  1. I really liked Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction.
    Thanks for the review. I think I’m going to read The Next Species soon.

  2. Great review, Bill! I’ll have to keep an eye out for this one. Also, for interested readers, I recommend Annalee Newitz’s 2013 book Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction.

  3. I enjoyed SCATTER, ADAPT AND REMEMBER. I like Bill’s suggestion to read THE SIXTH EXTINCTION and THE NEXT SPECIES together.

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