A little book with a big message, bound to produce discussion among scientists and discomfort in devout churchgoers.

THE MEANING OF HUMAN EXISTENCE

An exploration of what it means to be human by the noted sociobiologist and naturalist, twice the winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

According to Wilson (A Window on Eternity: Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, 2014, etc.), our species was created not by a supernatural intelligence but by chance and necessity out of millions of species in Earth’s biosphere. No destiny or purpose is assigned to us, and no afterlife awaits us. The meaning of human existence, writes the author, lies in “the epic of the species, begun in biological evolution and prehistory, passed into recorded history, and urgently now, day by day, faster and faster into the indefinite future.” Social intelligence, enhanced by natural selection for social action, made us what we are today. Our most vital possession is not science but the humanities. The humanities, writes Wilson, describe the human condition and address in detail all the ways that human beings relate to one another and to the environment. Science takes a larger view: the general principles of the human condition and why the species exists and where it fits in the universe. While science and the humanities are fundamentally different, they are complementary. Wilson’s last word is that if the analytic power of the one can be joined with the creative power of the other, “human existence will rise to an infinitely more productive and interesting meaning.” Perhaps the human species will even take up the cause of biodiversity, on which its very existence depends. For readers wondering where religion fits into this, the author notes that throughout prehistory and most of history, people required religion to explain natural phenomena and provide cohesion to the tribe. Conceding that there is strong evidence from neuroscience that a religious instinct does exist, Wilson asserts that the instinctual force of tribalism is far stronger.

A little book with a big message, bound to produce discussion among scientists and discomfort in devout churchgoers.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-87140-100-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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