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The Immortalization Commission: Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death
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The Immortalization Commission: Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death

3.5 of 5 stars 3.50  ·  rating details  ·  162 ratings  ·  23 reviews
A Globe and Mail Best Books of the Year 2011 TitleAt the heart of human experience lies an obsession with the nature of death. Religion, for most of history, has provided an explanation for human life and a vision of what comes after it. But in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such beliefs came under relentless pressure as new ideas—from psychiatry to evo ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published March 29th 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published January 1st 2011)
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Phillip Ramm
This not the "Men Are From somewhere, Women From Somewhere Else... " John Gray. Different guy. You have been warned.


This book seems to be made up of left-over notes from his Black Mass, which was about millennialism and things eschatological. The take-home message from that book was: Don't get involved with groups which advocate solutions to the world's problems that involve killing huge swathes of "imperfect" people.

The take-home message from this current book: You are going to die, an
This book certainly deserves a closer, more thoughtful reading than I was able to give the first time through.

The biggest surprise for me was that this is primarily a history book. The first part delves into the activities of the British Society for Psychical Research (SPR), and its attempts to prove that there is an afterlife. Such efforts began in the last quarter of the 19th century and continued well into the 20th century, but slowly petered out as it became clear that there was no such proo
Al Bità
John Gray has a name for being a kind of maverick philosopher, and this book continues the tradition. What makes it a pleasure to read is that he also writes cleverly and well. The combination always tends to make his works exciting and thrilling, not always in expected ways. His techniques appears to be the skilful application of an extremely sharp rational scalpel to reveal inconsistencies, contradictions, ironies, etc. in most of not all of one's cherished beliefs. As such, he is a post-moder ...more
Nikolay Nikiforov
What an awful book!
To begin with, its title comes from a mistranslation: there was never Lenin Immortalization Commission in Soviet Russia, only a Commision for the (Eternal) Preservation of his Memory — sort of a big difference, right?
Instead of an insteresting philosophical argument one would expect after reading the book's preface, what you get is a hodgepodge of historical trivia and random gossip and insinuation.
The author never resists a temptation for another digression that serves no p
"Let's stay human". This could synthesize this book by against-the-grain philosopher John Gray. Staying human means first understanding the reach and richness of human existence in its complicated and convoluted unfoldings, and at the same time remaining humbly attached to human nature in front of uncontrolled and easily addictive exercises of indulgence, excess and hubrys. It takes an entire lifetime in the best case to understand how to leave fully the single-shot instance we are eventually gi ...more
The book is divided into three parts. An Edwardian romp documenting an esoteric search for evidence of an afterlife by way of communicating with the dead using something called "automatic writing". Probably automatic writing is more likely evidence of the subconscious at work or a split-mind writing activity, if it was not in actual fact a fraud perpetrated on the gullible survivors of lost loves and untimely death. The search for evidence of life after death was certainly a folly, especially if ...more
H Wesselius
An other great book by John Gray. Looking at two supposedly rational attempts to escape he reaches the conclusion that it was the quest to find extraordinary meaning and to retain individuality past death which motivated the individuals. The quest to cheat death is an eschatological movement within science and the application of reason. For him, there's no need for any of this, we should live as if this was are only life. The only negative to express about this book was it didn't measure to the ...more
A really great book about the human quest for immortality and why it is so absurd. I loved the mixture of politics, philosophy and history, focusing on the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Europe, the United States, and Russia. The only part I didn't "get" was the very long description of the bloody extremes of the Russian revolution - I wasn't sure why Gray included that except maybe to hammer home that some of the humans who believed in a "Superman" were actually some of the worst humans.
Marcus Lira
Sep 12, 2012 Marcus Lira rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: spiritualists, health nutters, and Carl-Saganites.
Shelves: philosophy, culture
The reason why I gave this book five stars, rather than four, is because Gray's analysis is even more relevant nowadays in Brazil than in contemporary Europe, since we're currently stuck with beliefs not unlike those William James and Alfred Russel Wallace were interested in - even the appeals to science by spiritualists remain popular around here.

It's a very sober and well-written essay, and I don't think I can say anything here that isn't better put in the book.
Wow. I have always loved John Gray's clearly thought out analyses of various situations and conditions but this one was full of information I had never come across. Very much worth the time it took to read it - I'll be thinking about the things in here for a long time to come. His take on science and the way in which the individuals concerned in its development have pushed ideas as a result of their personal crises is intriguing and compelling.
"Science is not sorcery." False Dawn destroyed global capitalism, Black Mass destroyed political Utopias, and this destroys scientific arrogance. Gray is best when operating as a philosopher, and the extended historical sections--as much fun as it is to learn about HG Well's personal life--pale in comparison to the beginning and end. It takes a rare talent to write an effective conclusion that endorses death.
Peculiar book about the search for immortality in different forms and milieus, including late 19thC scientists investigating the possibility of an afterlife from profoundly personal motives and the preservation by embalming of Communist leaders against the possibility that the secret of restoring life might be found in the future.
A great meditation on the enlightenment/modernist obsessions with overcoming death and what the says about how philosophical and scientific efforts have come to be a stand-in for religion amongst the same type of people who, despite claiming secularism, are nothing but the same frightened peasants which once weekly flocked to church.
The first half, set in Britain wasn't bad, however the Soviet half, including the details on the titular commission, must be read to be believed. Human hubris + the obsession with cheating death =- only human hubris. John Gray is almost always worth reading, if only for the healthy dose of semi-optimistic cynicism only he can deliver.
Bjørn Olav Listog
The last part should be read first since it is this thesis Gray attempts to illustrate in the two preceding parts. If you have a melancholic temperament and is by nature a sceptic, you will probably enjoy this book. I did.
Joanna b
This reads like John Gray channeling Adam Curtis. It's a strange story of Victorian and Edwardian occultists, attempts cheating death, and horrible genocide all in one. Odd but engrossing.
Greg Linster
Read my review of The Immortalization Commission here.
Tariq Mahmood
A book only meant of the academic consumption. Mere mortals like me struggled to get something cohesive out of it. Waste of time and space.
"There is more sunshine in the fall of a leaf" or at least that's how John Gray sees it:)
Great book.
Steve Redhead
Like all of Gray's recent books, a very good guide to problems with humanism, religion and science.
I would suggest reading Ch. 3 first , then go back and start with Ch. 1 ~
Caleb Rupp

Fascinating concept, horrible execution.
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John Nicholas Gray (born 17 April 1948, in South Shields, then in County Durham) is an English political philosopher with interests in analytic philosophy and the history of ideas.[1] He is formerly School Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Gray contributes regularly to The Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement and the New Statesman, where he is
More about John Nicholas Gray...
Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism Al Qaeda and What It Means to Be Modern

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