Humans have "subdued 75 percent of the land surface, concocted a wizardry of industrial and medical marvels, strung lights all across the darkness." We tinker with nature at every opportunity; we garden the planet with our preferred species of plants and animals, many of them invasive; and we have even altered the climate, threatening our own extinction.Read more...
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Humans have "subdued 75 percent of the land surface, concocted a wizardry of industrial and medical marvels, strung lights all across the darkness." We tinker with nature at every opportunity; we garden the planet with our preferred species of plants and animals, many of them invasive; and we have even altered the climate, threatening our own extinction. Yet we reckon with our own destructive capabilities in extraordinary acts of hope-filled creativity: we collect the DNA of vanishing species in a "frozen ark," equip orangutans with iPads, and create wearable technologies and synthetic species that might one day outsmart us. With her distinctive gift for making scientific discovery intelligible to the layperson, Ackerman takes us on an exhilarating journey through our new reality, introducing us to many of the people and ideas now creating--perhaps saving--our future and that of our fellow creatures.
A beguiling, optimistic engagement with the changes affecting every part of our lives, The Human Age is a wise and beautiful book that will astound, delight, and inform intelligent life for a long time to come.
- ISBN-13: 9780393240740
- ISBN-10: 0393240746
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
- Publish Date: September 2014
- Page Count: 344
- Dimensions: 9.52 x 6.61 x 1.09 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.42 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-07-14
- Reviewer: Staff
Ackerman (One Hundred Names for Love) addresses a currently vogue topic, the Anthropocene—the geologic age humans have shaped by altering the world’s ecosystems—and in doing so raises the bar for her peers. “We’ve subdued 75 percent of the land surface,” Ackerman points out, “preserving some pockets as ‘wilderness,’ denaturing vast tracts for our businesses and homes, and homogenizing a third of the world’s ice-free land through farming.” Yet in the face of massive changes that have “created some planetary chaos that threatens our well-being,” she finds hope. Ackerman views the efforts of the tiny, deluge-prone Indian Ocean nation of the Maldives to be carbon neutral by 2020 as “a model for changes radical enough to help fix the climate.” Her critical eye focuses on changes at the human as well as the global level: “Anthropocene engineering has penetrated the world of medicine and biology, revolutionizing how we view the body.” The greatest strength of her work, though, is the beauty of her language, the power of her metaphors, and the utterly compelling nature of her examples. Whether Ackerman is writing about an iPad-using orangutan or Polynesian snails whose “interiors belong in a church designed by Gaudí,” her penetrating insight is a joy to behold. Agent: Suzanne Gluck, William Morris Endeavor. (Sept.)
Measuring mankind's impact
Ah, we humans, what have we wrought? Essayist and naturalist Diane Ackerman (author of A Natural History of the Senses, The Zookeeper’s Wife and many other books) tackles this musing—and not merely rhetorical—question in The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us, examining what geologists are calling our current epoch, the Anthropocene, or Human Age.
This is serious ground, but Ackerman treads it with her customary graceful, imaginative and witty prose, infusing this manifesto-like look at the positive and negative impacts human beings are having on the planet with realism—and optimism. “Today, instead of adapting to the natural world . . . we’ve created a human environment in which we’ve embedded the natural world. . . . Without meaning to, we’ve created some planetary chaos that threatens our well-being,” she writes.
Ackerman avows, however, that she holds enormous hope for man’s future: “Our new age, for all its sins, is laced with invention.” And, true to her statement, the author takes us on a breathtaking tour of our “sins,” our successes and the incredible work and explorations that are shaping a new vision of life.
Five impressively researched sections frame our Anthropocene impacts (with considerable focus on climate change); discuss the innovations that might ameliorate those impacts; enumerate man’s interaction with (read: manipulation of) and influence upon nature; outline the intersection of our technological advances and nature; and explore our mind-boggling tinkering with the human body and psyche.
Ackerman’s immense knowledge of the natural world and her poetic and ethical sensibilities embellish an incredible journey that shows us orangutans playing with iPads, oceangoing farmers experimenting with mariculture, a botanist-artist who fashions living, breathing walls of plant life in cities; a project that puts animal DNA on ice for the future; and the newest work in the modeling of human body parts (3-D printing) and in epigenetics.
Who, what and where will we be as we lurch onward in this human-driven age? Perhaps all depends upon our ability “to think about the beings we wish to become. What sort of world do we wish to live in, and how do we design that human-made sphere?” Spoiler alert: This book ends optimistically, but with a caveat: “We still have time and imagination . . . and a great many choices. . . . [O]ur mistakes are legion, but our talent is immeasurable.”