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The Strange Science of Immortality, Is it Within Reach?

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« on: June 21, 2010, 03:19:45 pm »

The Strange Science of Immortality, Is it Within Reach? [Hardcover] Can We Attain the Fountain of Youth Through Science and Technology? A Serious Study of That Question.
By Jonathan Weiner
BuzzFlash.com's Review (excerpt)
From Publishers Weekly:

Starred Review. The promise of eternal youth is both tantalizingly close and far-fetched in this fascinating primer on longevity research. Pulitzer Prize–winning science writer Weiner (The Beak of the Finch) focuses on amateur gerontologist and oddball visionary Aubrey de Grey, a charismatic motormouth who has won a respectful scientific hearing for his argument that we will soon achieve life spans of thousands of years. (His immortality program starts with the removal of a gunky cellular buildup called lipofuscin.) Weiner takes readers on an engrossing tour of cutting-edge research, while citing established life-cycle experts like Shakespeare and Yeats, and he has a knack for translating science into evocative metaphor.

He tempers the "prolongevist" optimism with some daunting reality: evolution never engineered humans to last forever, the body's myriad modes of decay may make that goal impossible, and reaching it, he speculates, might render us morbidly averse to risk or even to having children. Weiner's erudite, elegant exposition of the underlying science is stimulating yet sobering.

****

"With the bookshelves full of deathless vampires these days, it's refreshing to read about immortality in the real world for a change. In Long for This World, Jonathan Weiner, who won a Pulitzer Prize for The Beak of the Finch, has written an elegant, curious, and personal account of the modern scientific search for a Fountain of Youth. The search for immortality has long been seen as a fanciful, alchemic quest, and the study of aging a mere biological backwater, but recent advances in both evolutionary and molecular biology have made the prospect of finding a cure for our apparently inevitable deterioration seem tantalizingly reachable, at least to figures like Aubrey de Grey, the bearded, beer-drinking English researcher whose impossibly confident drive toward thousand-year life spans is at the center of Weiner's tale. Is Weiner convinced? He's appealingly skeptical, and clear enough in explaining the science to make us equally so: if aging is a disease, it's at least as complicated to cure as cancer (and in fact would require us to cure cancer, along with everything else that hunts us down). But he presents the optimists' case with verve and appreciation, making their quest to exceed our human limits into a wonderfully human story."

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