QUEST FOR PERFECTION

THE DRIVE TO BREED BETTER HUMAN BEINGS

The perfectibility of the human species remains one of the most controversial subjects in science, and Maranto, an award- winning science writer, explains why. She begins with a look at a meeting of the cutting-edge specialists in ``assisted reproduction.'' Physicians whose concern is to help infertile couples achieve parenthood, whether through artificial insemination, hormone treatment, or in vitro fertilization (IVF), are the new medical elite. Their specialty grows out of the oldest of human concerns: the regulation of the population. The author traces back to ancient societies the practice of infanticide and the enslavement of abandoned children. But the arrival of modern biology brought the eugenics movement, proposing that regulation of human breeding was as natural as the selective breeding of livestock. While respected scientists endorsed the concept, Maranto argues that its logical conclusion was the Nazi extermination of ``undesirables.'' Meanwhile, research on human fertilization and conception was proceeding. The first recorded application of artificial insemination to humans was in 1884, when Dr. William Pancoast of Philadelphia performed the procedure—with the permission of neither the woman or her husband. The growth of the practice was controversial with legal and religious authorities. As with most of the other practices Maranto discusses, doctors were generally content to follow the available technology to its natural conclusion. Further controversy followed the development in the 1970s of IVF, and the legal tangles accompanying surrogate motherhood are still unresolved. The new cutting edge is genetic therapy, which promises to eliminate such diseases as Tay-Sachs and sickle cell anemia, and could allow parents the dubious ability to choose traits such as skin color and gender. While Maranto scrupulously presents the views of all sides, it is clear that her own position is that science has gone too far. A comprehensive, passionate, and thought-provoking look through the door into a brave new world in which we may find ourselves before we realize it.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-684-80029-2

Page Count: 316

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1996

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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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