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“People live, decay, and die—inevitably. We are the result of billions of successful reproductions, and almost all the creatures involved in them are now dead (excluding the trillions of bacteria living on and in us, most of which will long survive our death). Homo sapiens appeared in a foreboding Pleistocene ice world of woolly mammoths, 7-foot deer, 12-foot and 3,500-pound bears, and giant mammal-hunting condors with 25-foot wingspans, called teratorns. Even beavers were 9 feet long. Life was treacherous, and lives were short. They’re much, much longer now.

In 1900, a person in the developed world lived to fourty-five; in 2015, to about eighty. The longest recorded lives top out in the 120s, and an average of one hundred years of age or more is now considered all but inevitable. But why stop there? The renowned nineteenth-century mathematician Benjamin Gompertz’s law (that our odds of survival halve every eight years) has been challenged always by the resentment and fear of death, but never more aggressively than by the bioengineering of immortality in process today. “There is nothing in biology yet found that indicates the inevitability of death,” said physicist Richard Feynman, and it would seem more and more scientists, technologists and billionaires agree with him.” 

–from the book’s Introduction

Man’s futile, sometimes pathetic, attempts at tricking death are as old as anything. Some will claim that this is the reason man invented gods–the idea that everything would be transient, fleeting, and constantly deteriorating seems to have been too unbearable. And so today, like in the past but with better resources, some people commit their efforts not to the betterment of our species’ lifespan, but to doing away with lifespans altogether.

This book tells the fascinating story of the reach for immortality through the ages, from tribal elixirs to Panacea, and from present-day cryonics to science fiction virtual immortality. Guy Weress, with impressive clarity and a wealth of both historical knowledge and contemporary research, sheds light on:

  • Immortality cults
  • The famous story of Henrietta Lacks and her undying genes
  • The philosophical questions surrounding death
  • Divine and mythical immortality
  • Present-day immortality and transhumanism gurus like Aubrey de Grey and Ray Kurzweil
  • How much does immortality cost?
  • The social downsides of immortality
  • Silicon Valley and virtual immortality

From an evolutionary perspective, immortality is a non-issue: having children solves it; from a philosophical perspective, many argue that biological infinity would strip life of its meaning. And from a sustainability perspective, immortality, at least for large numbers of people, is simply impractical. And yet, it’s precisely going against perceived wisdoms and what appears to be insurmountable that has spurred human innovation and advancement. This book is a brilliant look at every question and answer surrounding this age-old obsession.

An imprint of Urtext