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Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization (edition 2012)
by Stephen Cave
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Wikipedia in English
Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307884910, Hardcover)A fascinating work of history and popular philosophy that both enlightens and entertains, Stephen Cave’s Immortality investigates whether it just might be possible to live forever and whether we should want to. But it also makes a powerful argument, which is that it’s our very preoccupation with defying mortality that drives civilization.
Central to this book is the metaphor of a mountaintop where one can find the Immortals. Since the dawn of humanity, everyone—whether they know it or not—has been trying to climb that mountain. But there are only four paths up its treacherous slope, and there have only ever been four paths. Throughout history, people have wagered everything on their choice of the correct path, and fought wars against those who’ve chosen differently.
While Immortality takes the reader on an eye-opening journey from the beginnings of civilization to the present day, the structure is not chronological. Rather it is path-driven. As each path is revealed to us, a historical figure serves as our guide. And it is through these diverse individuals—Nefertiti, a Pharaoh’s wife who marshaled the resources of Egypt to make herself immortal; Linus Pauling, who pinned his hopes for infinite longevity on the promise of vitamins; Mary Shelley, whose novel Frankenstein anticipated the science of reanimation; and Alexander the Great, whose unparalleled conquests were an attempt to outdo the gods—that we come to understand how much of civilization owes itself to our deep need to see our essence endure.
In drawing back the curtain on what compels humans to “keep on keeping on,” Cave engages the reader in a number of mind-bending thought experiments. He teases out the implications of each immortality gambit, asking, for example, how long a person would live if they did manage to acquire a perfectly disease-free body. Or what would happen if a super-being tried to round up the atomic constituents of all who’ve died in order to resurrect them. Or what our loved ones would really be doing in heaven if it does exist. Or what part of us actually lives in a work of art, and how long that work of art can survive.
Toward the book’s end, we’re confronted with a series of brain-rattling questions: What would happen if tomorrow humanity discovered that there is no life but this one? Would people continue to care about their favorite sports team, please their boss, vie for the title of Year’s Best Salesman? Would three-hundred-year projects still get started? If the four paths up the Mount of the Immortals lead nowhere—if there is no getting up to the summit—is there still reason to live? And can civilization survive?
Immortality is a deeply satisfying book, as optimistic about the human condition as it is insightful about the true arc of history.
(retrieved from Amazon Wed, 07 Mar 2012 19:24:30 -0500)
A narrative citing the activities of historical figures and leading modern scientists demonstrates how the innate desire to live forever has contributed to humanity's most significant achievements in science, medicine, religion, and art.
(summary from another edition)
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