Rensselaer hosted “Vanishing Point: An Evening With Elizabeth Kolbert,” on Thursday, November 2, at 7 p.m. The talk was held in the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center.

Elizabeth Kolbert traveled from Alaska to Greenland, and visited top scientists to get to the heart of the debate over global warming. Her books bring the environment into the consciousness of the American people and ask what, if anything, can be done, and how we can save our planet. She explains the science and the studies, draws frightening parallels to lost ancient civilizations, unpacks the politics, and presents the personal tales of those who are being affected most—the people who make their homes near the poles and, in an eerie foreshadowing, are watching their worlds disappear. Her most recent book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, is a book about mass extinctions that weaves intellectual and natural history with reporting in the field.

Faculty from the Rensselaer School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS), in partnership with Student Life, selected two titles for the 2017-18 Community Read. The selected books are The Sixth Extinction and Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will by Geoff Colvin.

The tradition of a Community Read for Rensselaer students was established in 2015, using the theme of the President’s Commencement Colloquy as a concept for exploration by the entire Rensselaer community in the following academic year. The theme of the 2017 colloquy, on which the current book selections were based, was “Criticality, Incisiveness, and Creativity.”

“We are very excited to welcome Elizabeth Kolbert to campus,” said Mary Simoni, dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at Rensselaer. “We chose The Sixth Extinction as a Rensselaer Community Read for 2017-18 because we felt it exemplifies this year’s theme of ‘Criticality, Incisiveness, and Creativity.’ In challenging readers to come to terms with the impact of natural and unnatural processes using data and research—a concept that every Rensselaer student can relate to—Kolbert’s book shows how one decision can and often does have monumental consequences. At RPI, we ask our students to consider how their academic work will make a difference. Elizabeth Kolbert’s book asks us all to consider how our fate as a species is being determined here and now by many small decisions that accumulate into, and create, our future.”

For more information on the Community Read, go to