THE BIOTECH CENTURY: Harnessing the Gene and Remaking the World by Jeremy Rifkin

THE BIOTECH CENTURY: Harnessing the Gene and Remaking the World

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Scattershot doomsaying from a noted alarmist. Rifkin (The End of Work, 1994; Beyond Belief, 1991, etc.) prophesies a future conditioned by genetic engineering and biotechnology, in which whole species--ours included--have been eugenically remade for maximum commercial potential as part of anew ""artificially produced bioindustrial nature designed to replace nature's own evolutionary scheme."" He has a point; after all, gene prospecting and biotech startups remain hot growth areas for venture capitalists, and inasmuch as Western Europeans and Americans spend billions on mood- and physique-enhancing substances and procedures, there's no reason to think they wouldn't pump money into, say, using ""genetic therapies to enhance their unborn children."" Rifkin is no doubt correct in worrying, too, about the effects of organisms genetically modified for profit, which may host killer viruses and yield unforeseen plagues. But he errs in viewing this brave new world as imminent and as given, when in fact the future is unwritten; he doesn't account, for instance, for the recent widespread public outcry against human-cloning experiments, which has led several heads of state to propose bans on such mad-science tinkering. More problematic is the fact that Rifkin does not make his argument well; he darts about from one set of rhetorical questions to the next, answering them to his own satisfaction with a flurry of data that are not always to the point. The book reads, as a result, more like a stack of debater's three-by-five cards than a coherent narrative, which does nothing to further Rifkin's argument--which, in simplest terms, can be reduced to Joyce Kilmer's observation that ""only God can make a tree."" Readers willing to brave his messy exposition will find food for thought in Rifkin's book, but getting to it requires a lot of work.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Tarcher