Generosity: An Enhancement
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Generosity: An Enhancement

3.5 of 5 stars 3.50  ·  rating details  ·  1,151 ratings  ·  252 reviews
AUGUST 2010, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, trade paperback , Richard Powers (Genie).
A melancholic teacher finds a student who seems to always be happy despite her circumstances and finds his lief changing in ways he never expected.
Paperback, 336 pages
Published August 3rd 2010 by Picador (first published 2009)
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Sep 11, 2010 Jessica rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: mad scientists; depressives; genetic predisposers
Picked this up in the airport bookstore, and on the plane recalled that I DO like reading! So yeah, Pregnant Widow? Gate at the Stairs? That newish McEwan? I was beginning to think it was me, but it's not. It's just them, actually. I can still enjoy books. (Whew.)

It would be unconscionably perverse for me to waste any further limited precious moments of my too-short life on Solar, when I could be reading this awesome book instead. Sense of duty to finish, you are neatly dispatched! Thanks, Mr. P...more
Krok Zero
So, this is pretty fuggin' fantastic. My first Powers--I've always resisted, thinking of him as literature's Bill Nye the Science Guy or something. And maybe he is. And maybe that's not such a bad thing.

Some might complain that there's too much stuff packed into this novel's relatively slim, 295-page frame. We've got five (or six) major characters. There's Russell, the depressive writer/editor/teacher; Candace, the therapist and Russell's love interest; Thassa, the young Algerian woman in Russel...more
Erik Simon
Three things:

1. I'm hard pressed to think of anyone who is using language more playfully and imaginatively than Richard Powers.

2. Powers continues to amaze me with his ability to use contemporary science, which is so arcane, as a vehicle to probe the oddities of our modern society. And yet, despite the esoteric nature of his writing and his delving into science, he is obsessed with those old human verities--love, death, joy, etc. This tale about happiness in our world revolves around three main...more
K.D. Absolutely
This book could have been a big hit for me if I had not first read Eric Weiner's 2008 book, The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World. That and this book both floated the idea that there is the so-called "happiness gene" in our DNA make up in the same fashion that there said to be a homosexual gene, a cancer gene and other anomalies that found to have been probably caused by gene abnormalities.

It tells the story of a young Algerian woman Thassadit "Thassa" A...more
This is probably the most accessible of his books that I've read, not overly technical but certainly not patronizing. But for those who appreciate Powers' tendency towards erudite digressions on any imaginable high-brow subject, you may feel that this book is somewhat lacking in that department; it even reads at times like he is making a deliberate effort to rein himself in and to focus on the momentum of the plot. This is interesting because one strand of the plot is a sort of meta-narrative on...more
Jennifer (aka EM)
I need to put some serious thought into this review - there's about 100 strands of plot, character and theme that I'd like to touch on. But right now, I can't do that - so suffice it to say, this book is fabulous. Don't be scared of it - even though it takes on some pretty weighty issues - freewill v. biological determinism; positive psychology and social cognition biases; and the absolutely fascinating, speculative fictional premise of what and how people would respond to a person who was genet...more
Clif Hostetler
The secret of happiness is to be born happy (i.e. right genes). With genetic engineering this can be made to order. This gives a new dimension to our God given right of the "pursuit of happiness." This novel is structured to examine this prospective future from multiple perspectives.

This novel explores what and how people would respond to a person who was genetically predisposed to having an off-the-charts level of extreme well-being. The book examines the pursuit of happiness using genetic engi...more
David Hebblethwaite
Russell Stone is a washed-up writer making ends meet by teaching a ‘Journal and Journey’ class to a group of art students at a Chicago college. One member of that group stands out because of her remarkable personality: Thassadit Amzwar is a young woman from Algeria who is apparently happy all the time; nothing seems to bother her, and people are naturally attracted to her sunny disposition. Even after everything she has experienced in her life, Thassa remains in perpetual good humour; Russell sp...more
Richard Powers is one of my favorite writers. Generosity is not my favorite of his books, but I almost feel like I will have to reread it again in a few months in order to review it appropriately.

The book jacket says this book is about the search for a gene that determines happiness and a woman who is the happiest person in the world. And, yes, that's the plot, more or less. I would say the book is about how we live now, about how we measure our purpose and existence. If you're interested in th...more
Sep 30, 2009 oriana marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
from the book review: The story postulates the existence of a "happiness gene" that would enhance the whole species. Thassa Amzwar, improbably happy despite her suffering, might be the donor who will usher in the "age of molecular control." Yet the novel's affect, first to last, isn't admonitory so much as amazed, a word half-buried in Amzwar's name. Generosity may be jam-packed, but it's genius: It soars, it boggles.
A young girl strikes a big American city like a meteorite. She fled a civil war and, via Paris and Montreal, disembarks in the metropolis. Her radiance and appetite for life transfixes those who have the privilege of orbiting around her.

The circumstances remind us of the real-world work of epidemiologist Aaron Antonovsky who, in the 1960s and 70s was struck in his research by how certain women who had survived the Holocaust were able to sustain a rich and positive outlook on life. Antonovsky re...more
There is easily a thousand things I could say about Generosity. Powers is a brilliant writer and thinker.

Here's the bigger picture:

In Generosity, I like what it says about the function and "fate" of the novel in a scientific world that is always pursuing progress in the fields related to bio-genetics. This novel is interested in what happens when medical science discovers the gene for happiness. Traditionally, people in the humanities have always been critical of the determinism found in the sc...more
This book took me FOREVER to get through... Not because I didn't like it, but because it was so demanding. The basic premise of the novel is: what if science discovered the gene that predisposes a person toward happiness? And what if it were possible to screen for such a gene -- and possibly even "enhance" a fetus so that they'd be preternaturally happy adults? But, this being Richard Powers, the "writer" of the book periodically inserts his voice, talking about his struggle in writing the chara...more
Total brain food about creation, whether it be scientific or artistic. Intelligent writing, captivating, worth reading at least a couple more times. The book is a beautifully composed snapshot of today's culture and the fascination and controversy over the use of genetic discoveries. (A high school knowledge of biology is helpful but not required.) As much about the creation of art as it is about human manipulation of creation, the structure alone is worth the read, especially for a would-be aut...more
Greg Zimmerman
Actually, Generosity: An Enhancement could probably be more accurately classified as "fiction about science...and fiction." That's Richard Powers' shtick: He has a unique gift for giving readers multiple entry points to his novels; fusing real science with literary themes into tightly constructed novels of ideas.

And Generosity: An Enhancement illustrates that gift nicely. If you're interested in genetics (or genometics, as it's now more accurately called, apparently), then this novel is right in...more
I wanted to adore this book so desperately that I read a few sections more than once, waiting for the themes (positive psychology; the human genome a la Craig Venter; an Algerian war refugee: so alluring on their own!) to solidify into one self-reinforcing text. Instead, I found myself increasingly cynical about the existential narrator and plot that solves its own problems. Powers sets up the nature vs. nurture debate only to walk you through the monologue of objections you may have experienced...more
Imagine that a rare individual suddenly appears on the scene -- a person who, despite having experienced horrific events while growing up in war-torn Algeria, nevertheless projects a constant and contagious glow that seems utterly unshakable by anything that the world currently has on offer. What could be the source of her remarkable buoyancy? Might she be harboring some kind of "happiness gene"? And if a genomic research company were to pin it down, would the company then own the rights to her...more
Please don't let the fact that this book took me a while to finish as a reflection of how good it is. I am certain that if I didn't have work to do, a show to rehearse for, and video games to distract me that I could have cranked through this novel in one day. It goes that quickly. It is, in fact, possibly the most accessible of Powers' novels. One can almost imagine him having a conversation with his publishers in which they remind him that he just won a National Book Award: "Better tone it dow...more
Another idea-ride from the fearlessly exuberant and intellectual Powers. Not a book to love the way I loved "The Echo Maker," but one full of endless pleasures and provocations nonetheless. There's the depressive antihero, Russell Stone, teaching "creative nonfiction" on spec, too nose-to-navel to realize he's set himself up for this entire trip. He's also the intrusive authorial voice of the book--or, at least, the prop/foil for it. His peculiarly effervescent student, Thassa, dubbed "Miss Gene...more
Generosity: for a book with such a title there is awful little joy. Even the person with the extraordinary genes isn't in my opinion a really happy person. But maybe that's just the point Powers wants te make: that the existence of happiness genes is a non issue.

The structure of the book, takes some accustoming to but once your used to it, it's quite readable.
I hated the narrator though: I don't especially like the writer of a book to be so present in the story.
The end is abrupt and unsatisfying...more
Is happiness an act of will, learned behavior from your upbringing, or is happiness in your genetic make-up? Thassadit Amzwar, nicknamed Miss Generosity by Russell Stone's Creative Non Fiction night class is seemingly always happy and positive. When Stone find out from her essays about her horrific experiences in strife torn Algeria, he wonders if her happiness is a sign of something wrong with her and asks for advice from a counselor colleague.

A geneticist, meanwhile can foresee a future where...more
Leroy Seat
At the beginning I was really impressed by this book--mainly by the author's style, but also by the story and the main issue that he took up, genetic engineering. But for whatever reason, I did not enjoy the last half of the book nearly as much as the first half.

Although there were many interesting statements made throughout the book, the only one I will cite here is this one: “Joy does little to increase one’s judgment. Happiness is not the condition you want to be in when you need to be at you...more
It took me three attempts to finish this book, and in the end it felt like a colossal waste of time. This book was recommended to me by one of my professors who was teaching it in his post-modern lit class. I can see the reasons he was interested in it, but none of them really made up for the poor storytelling. There were some really interesting ideas: what is "truth"—-blurring the distinction between fiction and non-fiction, science and art. The meaning of/search for happiness.

However, the way...more
William Leight
I really liked this book until it faltered at the end. Basically it's a satire on the well-known phenomenon of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, in this case Thassa, a remarkably peppy Algerian immigrant. Just as in the movies, we have a depressed hero, Russell, but in this case he falls in love not with Thassa (which is good, because he meets her when he teaches a writing class that she's a student in) but with Candace, a therapist at the art school she attends. Thassa does bring them together, but n...more
Isabelle Hunt
I read this book for my university class called Growing Up in America, which was basically about the advanced technologies found today and the ways people deal with the invasion of privacy and other consequences ensued. I usually do not enjoy books that I am forced to read for school, but I loved this particular one so much that I even decided to write my final paper on it. I truly enjoyed writing my paper, rereading the whole novel several times to really get to know the characters and to make...more
Craig Werner
A deceptively inviting novel that may be the best introduction to Richard Powers' work, Generosity circles around two (or maybe three, or maybe four) central characters and a set of themes connected to the nature of happiness. Russell Stone is a teacher/editor living in Chicago somewhere around 2010; Thassa Amzwar, a young Algerian refuge (by way of Montreal) who radiates happiness and well-being. That draws the attention of a genetics researcher, a campus shrink who becomes involved with Stone,...more
The creative use of language can either be an enhancement or a distraction to a novel. Some writers try to use language like jazz music—riffing on words, parts of words or vernaculars—which often makes it hard to read and interferes with whatever plot is being set up.
Richard Powers, on the other hand, uses easily understandable words in such playful and imaginative ways, it not only enhances the plot, it makes the reader eagerly anticipate his next simile, metaphor or paradox that serve to emp...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
I call myself a big Richard Powers fan. I’ve only read one Powers book, but it was a wham-doozy. I often list it on my favorite all-time reads. It was brilliant, with clever word play and subplots that intertwine and characters who are---very strange---scientists and stories about human genes and computers, none of which I really know much about. It was fun and unexpected and, really, brilliant.

And now I’ve finally completed my second Powers, though, truth be told, it was actually a listen not a...more
Russell Stone is a lonely man who gets a temporary job as a teacher at a Chicago college. There he meets Thassa, an Algerian war refugee who seems to be constantly happy. He can’t understand this (since he himself is depressed), and after some Googling, decides she has hyperthymia, a psychiatric condition of constant happiness. He needs to confirm this and meets with the college counselor, Candace Weld, and develops a relationship with her. It is Stone’s very use of the word “hyperthymia” that s...more
Ron Charles
Sixteen years after Peter Kramer's "Listening to Prozac," Richard Powers has heard the alarming implications of treatments that let us buy better moods and personalities. His cerebral new novel offers a chilling examination of the life we're reengineering with our chromosomes and brain chemistry. Although it's tempting to call "Generosity" a dystopia about the pharmaceutical future in the tradition of Huxley's "Brave New World," Powers sticks so closely to the state of current medical science an...more
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Richard Powers is the author of eleven novels. He has been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, the Lannan Literary Award, two Pushcart Prizes, and the National Book Award.
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“When you're sure of what you're looking at, look harder.” 15 likes
“Time passes, as the novelist says. The single most useful trick of fiction for our repair and refreshment: the defeat of time. A century of family saga and a ride up an escalator can take the same number of pages. Fiction sets any conversion rate, then changes it in a syllable. The narrator’s mother carries her child up the stairs and the reader follows, for days. But World War I passes in a paragraph. I needed 125 pages to get from Labor Day to Christmas vacation. In six more words, here’s spring.” 12 likes
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