A wrinkle on the near future that many readers will not have pondered—and should.



A look at the coming revolution in biotechnology, with all its possible goods and evils.

“A great transformation of life is underway,” write futurist Webb and geneticist Hessel. The rising field of synthetic biology, with its underlying technology of gene editing, will allow for numerous things that do not yet exist, including the ability to sequence the genome of a virus nearly immediately, affording scientists a vast library of viruses that will provide the wherewithal to “cure any genetic disease in humankind.” That revolution, the authors write, will remake food, energy, transportation, the supply chain, and commerce as a whole. Granted, write Webb and Hessel, this is a vast Pandora’s box. Synthetic biology is largely the province of corporations and governments in the developed world, and it is not outside the realm of reason to think that a corporation might maximize profit or a government, political gain through its ability to control the food supply and indeed the genetic library of the planet. The problem, as the authors note in deeply researched but accessible prose, is that there is little in the way of coherence in terms of international agreements or “consensus on the acceptable circumstances under which humans should manipulate human, animal, or plant life.” Part of that problem is the generally laissez faire attitude of some governments, especially the U.S., to develop regulations that “don’t intervene until there’s a problem, so as not to stifle innovations.” Because the current regulatory climate isn’t well structured for future-proofing, one important step is the development of a body of law and convention acknowledging that “this new approach to biology warrants a new approach to regulation,” balancing the public good with scientific and commercial interests. The authors propose planks of a platform to this end while noting the difficulty of reining in tech-driven countries such as China to honor international licensing systems and other controls.

A wrinkle on the near future that many readers will not have pondered—and should.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5417-9791-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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A quirky wonder of a book.



A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Gates offers a persuasive, 30,000-foot view of a global problem that, he insists, can be prevented given will and money.


The tech mogul recounts the health care–related dimensions of his foundation in what amounts to a long policy paper.

“Outbreaks are inevitable, but pandemics are optional.” Thus states the epidemiologist Larry Brilliant, a Gates adviser, who hits on a critically important point: Disease is a fact of nature, but a pandemic is a political creation of a kind. Therefore, there are political as well as medical solutions that can enlist governments as well as scientists to contain outbreaks and make sure they don’t explode into global disasters. One critical element, Gates writes, is to alleviate the gap between high- and low-income countries, the latter of which suffer disproportionately from outbreaks. Another is to convince governments to ramp up production of vaccines that are “universal”—i.e., applicable to an existing range of disease agents, especially respiratory pathogens such as coronaviruses and flus—to prepare the world’s populations for the inevitable. “Doing the right thing early pays huge dividends later,” writes Gates. Even though doing the right thing is often expensive, the author urges that it’s a wise investment and one that has never been attempted—e.g., developing a “global corps” of scientists and aid workers “whose job is to wake up every day thinking about diseases that could kill huge numbers of people.” To those who object that such things are easier said than done, Gates counters that the development of the current range of Covid vaccines was improbably fast, taking a third of the time that would normally have been required. At the same time, the author examines some of the social changes that came about through the pandemic, including the “new normal” of distance working and learning—both of which, he urges, stand to be improved but need not be abandoned.

Gates offers a persuasive, 30,000-foot view of a global problem that, he insists, can be prevented given will and money.

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-53448-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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