An unsettling but informative and sometimes-optimistic view of mostly legitimate efforts at life extension.

TO BE A MACHINE

ADVENTURES AMONG CYBORGS, UTOPIANS, HACKERS, AND THE FUTURISTS SOLVING THE MODEST PROBLEM OF DEATH

An enlightening tour of transhumanism, the movement dedicated to radically prolonging human life.

In his first book, Slate book columnist and Millions staff writer O’Connell chronicles his travels around the world meeting and discussing transhumanism with the movement’s aficionados. The narrative is packed with eccentric characters, but none subscribe to the far more popular commercial life-extension industry that promises immediate results. On the contrary, transhumanists aim to achieve their goals through genuine technical advances, including implants, genetic modification, prostheses, mind-uploading, and biohacking. Those who feel they’ve been born too soon will perk up at O’Connell’s early chapter on Alcor, a cryopreservation facility where technicians will, for $200,000, carefully freeze your body upon death (just your head runs $80,000) and keep it until thawing, revival, and reconditioning become feasible options. Most governments and universities refuse to finance research aimed at immortality, but Silicon Valley billionaires, among others, are less inhibited. As such, O’Connell turns up plenty of freelancers with legitimate scientific backgrounds working on the problem as well as websites (Maxlife.org), organizations (Humanity Plus, described on its website as advocating “the ethical use of emerging technologies to enhance human capacities”), and even venture capital firms (Longevity Fund). Elderly readers may gnash their teeth, but others will have hope since many experts predict breakthroughs within decades. O’Connell does not claim to be impartial. He lets spokesmen have their say, explains their science for a lay audience, and does not conceal his amusement at wacky enthusiasts or his dismay at gruesome self-experiments. He also detours into robotics and artificial intelligence, which, once computers become smarter than humans, may render our perishable bodies irrelevant. Skeptics deliver thoughtful warnings, and O’Connell himself waxes hot and cold.

An unsettling but informative and sometimes-optimistic view of mostly legitimate efforts at life extension.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-54041-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

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

Did you like this book?

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Critics Circle Winner

LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more