The Sixth Extinction: One Book, One Chicago 2019-2020

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert was the 30th selection for One Book, One Chicago. The season’s program explored the theme "Season for Change."

From October 2019 through February 2020, we explored the theme from multiple perspectives, as recounted through personal experience, imagined in literature, presented in politics, or synthesized in music and art.

This major book about the future of the world blends intellectual and natural history and field reporting into a powerful account of the mass extinction unfolding before our eyes.

Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In The Sixth Extinction, two-time winner of the National Magazine Award and New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert draws on the work of scores of researchers in half a dozen disciplines, accompanying many of them into the field: geologists who study deep ocean cores, botanists who follow the tree line as it climbs up the Andes, marine biologists who dive off the Great Barrier Reef. She introduces us to a dozen species, some already gone, others facing extinction, including the Panamian golden frog, staghorn coral, the great auk and the Sumatran rhino. Through these stories, Kolbert provides a moving account of the disappearances occurring all around us and traces the evolution of extinction as concept, from its first articulation by Georges Cuvier in revolutionary Paris up through the present day. The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy; as Kolbert observes, it compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.

The New York Times bestseller was awarded:

  • Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
  • New York Times Book Review 10 Best Books of the Year
  • National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist


The 2019-2020 One Book, One Chicago season featured a variety of events at Harold Washington Library Center, neighborhood library branches and partner locations, as well as online digital programming.

Mainstage programs at Harold Washington Library Center included:

  • Climate Authors Series featuring
    • David Wallace-Wells
    • Sheila Watt-Cloutier
    • Dan Egan
    • Elizabeth Kolbert

Additional programs at Harold Washington Library Center included: 

  • Learning Circles - Act on Climate: Steps to Individual, Community and Political Action - Act on Climate: Steps to Individual, Community, and Political Action helped learners understand, address and respond to climate change as individuals and in partnership with their communities and political leaders.   
  • Article Discussion Group
  • CPL Maker Lab programs including
    • Make an Anthropocene Fossil with the Laser Cutter 
    • Make a Postcard from the Future with the Laser Cutter 
    • Make a Reusable Produce Bag with the Sewing Machine   
    • Make a Climate Resilient Plant with the Electronic Cutter  
  • Reduce, Reuse, Craft Makers on 8 Programs including
    • Recycled Fabric Flower Pins  
    • Fabric Wrapped Bangle Bracelets  
    • Mason Jar Vase  
    • Personalized Hankies  
    • Soda Can Wall Art   
    • Mason Jar Cup Holder  

CPL neighborhood branch programs included:

  • Neighborhood Tours including
    • Guided Tour of Indian Ridge Marsh
    • Going Green In the Loop 
    • Going Green in West Town 
    • Indigenous Led River Walk 
    • Hyde Park Goes Green(er) 
    • A “Natural History” of the Loop And Environs  
    • Going Green on The Mag Mile And Environs 
    • Lincoln Park’s Green Initiatives  
    • Flip and Reverse It: Tales of the Chicago River 
    • Loyola University Chicago’s Institute of Environmental Sustainability 
    • Windy City Harvest Tour of The Farm on Ogden 
  • Green Your Home Workshops Series including:
    • Improving the Efficiency, Comfort and Sustainability of Your Vintage Home (Chicago Bungalow Association) 
    • Basement Flooding: Reducing the Risk on Your Property  (Chicago Bungalow Association) 
    • ComEd presents Save Energy, Save Money 
    • Aquaponics with Plant Chicago  
  • Heaven, Earth and Man – the Ikebana Way - Expert Margot Wang taught a hands on workshop on the art of Ikebana 
  • Environmental Collage Making - Artist Anayansi Ricketts presented a collage making class using reused and recycled materials.  
  • Climate Crisis Game Days - Patrons attended game nights held throughout the season where they were taught how to play potential environmental futures with board games like Planet, Reef and Terraforming Mars.    
  • Greening Chicago Lecture Series including:
    • Before the Skyscrapers: Chicago’s Natural History 
    • Going Green in Chicago 
  • Season for Change Film Series including:
    • Defending the Sacred: Protecting, Reclaiming and Repairing Indigenous Lands
    • Wall-E 
    • March of the Penguins 
    • Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax 
    • Children of Men 
    • Deep Impact 
    • Into the Wild 
    • The Day After Tomorrow 
    • Avatar 
    • Happy Feet 
    • Water World 
    • Erin Brockovich 
    • Sunshine 
    • Logan’s Run 
    • Earth 
    • Mad Max: Fury Road 
    • Outbreak 

Teen Programs
Teens visited YOUmedia in Harold Washington Library Center for a variety of teen programming throughout our season, including: 

  • Songwriting for Social Justice with Liz and Dan  
  • Flora and Fauna Sketching with Jeff  
  • Earth's Evolution with Ephran  
  • The Demo: Life on Earth Edition with Ephran  
  • Biomimicry in Fashion with Marcus  
  • Quest for Space Project with Ephran  
  • A City Runs Through It at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago   

Teen Activities in Neighborhood Branches
Local neighborhood branch teen departments presented a variety of activities around ecology and sustainability, including: Flora and Fauna Sketching, Microbe Safari, DNA Extraction, Pollution Testing, Greenhouse Gardening, Sustainable Engineering, Environmental Testing, Solar/Water/Wind Power, Recycled Engineering, Community Involvement - Campaigning and Activism 

Community partner programming included:

  • DePaul University Chicago’s Department of English studied the One Book, One Chicago selection and theme through their One Book, One Chicago course, as well as through several on campus programs including:      
    • What Can We Do About Climate Change?  Professors Ted Anton, Barbara Willard, Jill Hopke, Ali Fatemi, and Mark Potosnak gathered to discuss solutions to the problem of human-caused climate change. What can we do? What should we do?  
    • Responding To A Slow-Motion Emergency: Communicating Climate Change
      From DePaul University and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Paolo Cabal, James Fairhall, Liam Heneghan, Rebecca Johns-Trissler, and Kathryn Schaffer pooled their experience and expertise to help us understand how to grapple with something as daunting—and important—as climate change. 
    • What Can I Do About Climate Change? Open House Students and members of the public were invited to stop by one of the many tables in DePaul’s Richardson Library during this open house featuring non-profit organizations to learn about small steps you can take to have an impact in the long fight against climate change.  
  • Harold Washington College,a member of the City Colleges of Chicago, explored the One Book, One Chicago title through their English Department classes and programming. Both fall 2019 and spring 2020 classes explored the natural processes and the human activities that have impacted and continue to impact the global commons. They also presented a book discussion at Harold Washington College that was open to members of the public. 
  • Loyola University Chicago presented an on campus book discussion of The Sixth Extinction.  The Loyola University Institute of Environmental Sustainability also partnered on two guided special tours of their facility that were open to the public. 
  • Northeastern Illinois University became a new partner of One Book, One Chicago, incorporating the season’s theme and book into their coursework for Fall 2019 and Spring 2020. They also built a localized partnership with the Albany Park branch of CPL which will continue in years to come, and presented two on campus events that were open to members of the public, including:      
    • Cooked: Survival by Zip Code – Students and the public viewed a screening of the documentary based on Heat Wave, Eric Klinenberg's groundbreaking book about the 1995 Chicago heat wave that killed 739 residents – mostly elderly and black – over the course of one week, followed by a discussion led by NEIU professors on the impacts of climate change on Chicagoans based on race, class and neighborhood. 
    • Chicago’s Green Promise with Monica Eng - More than a decade ago Chicago made a plan to become the "greenest city in America" with ambitious environmental goals to hit by 2020. WBEZ's Monica Eng tracked down how Chicago did on those goals, and shared the answers to this and other reporting she's done on Chicago composting, recycling, yard waste, water quality and more.
    • What Can We Do? - NEIU professors Nadja Insel, Ryan Poll, Melinda Storie, Alderman Samantha Nugent, and Ryan Bake from Chicago Sierra Club gathered to discuss solutions to the problem of human-caused climate change.  
  • Chicago Music Trivia Night at GMan Tavern

Digital Programming

In addition to events, the season featured several innovative digital programs including:

Further Reading and Viewing

Check out some of our further reading and viewing recommendations:


The 2019-2020 One Book, One Chicago was presented by the City of Chicago, Chicago Public Library and the Chicago Public Library Foundation. Lead support was provided by the Joyce Foundation. Additional support was provided by The Morrison Family Foundation, media sponsor WBEZ 91.5FM, travel sponsor United Airlines and generous donors to the Chicago Public Library Foundation.

Content last updated: August 21, 2020

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