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...moreThis 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, and mankind is going to become extinct. Might as well face up to it.
Harsh, but fair.
To warn you, Gray is not a scientist or a journalist. He is a philosopher. This is not some fact-filed, pop-sci expose destined for the best-seller shelves. It's not as much of hard slog as some have said, but it might not be what you are looking for, given the title. I have read a lot of Gray (am I a masochist?) so I knew what to expect.
Having said that, let's look at the book...
Through some potted biographies of well-known people such as H.G Wells, Maxim Gorky and Arthur Balfour (of the Balfour letter fame - the one that suggested giving Palestine to the Jewish people - it seemed a good idea a the time) and some incredibly less well-known ones, we look very unscientifically at the philosophy of pinning one's hopes on immortality (to avoid existential despair, I presume). There are so many off-topic digressions and barely on-topic discussion, that one might wonder if Gray had any idea what this book was going to be about while he was writing it.
First half concerns itself with the turn of the last's century's obsession with seances and automatic writing. The hope of contacting the dead through spiritualism could 'prove' there was continuance of the personality in the spirit world. Epic fail. Second half is about the crazy ideas in communist Russia that all of us become one mind, somehow. This is not explained well. Something to do with embalming Lenin.
It finishes off with that other nutter Allen Kurtzweil predicting that we will be living eternally in a nanorobot controlled Virtual World (cf Tron Reconfigured). Meanwhile the real world falls apart and is that virtual "I" really the same person as "me". Plus a despondent poet or two we have never heard of, happy (well maybe happy isn't the right word) to accept possible death by heading straight into trouble - 1st WW and communist Hungary.
I don't know how this last section fits in at all except to confirm that not everyone wants to live forever. One need only quote some suicide stats to make this point. I think Gray just wanted to transcribe some of his favorite pieces of writing - they are good, but only barely relevant.
His brief discussions on the laws of nature and man's place in the universe are thin, and I recommend a much more eloquent and elegant questioning of the philosophical difficulties here given by Michael Frayn (a journalist and novelist!) in The Human Touch.
This book is very unfocussed overall. However the insights into some of the personalities are instructive. Even smart people can be stupid. And they can go way off-topic. (less)
Confirmation of what a rabid bitch she was, although objective and rational, and what a bunch of nasty people are following in her heels, non-objectiv...moreConfirmation of what a rabid bitch she was, although objective and rational, and what a bunch of nasty people are following in her heels, non-objective and irrational. A series of interviews with people who have aligned themselves with Rand's philosophy or what they had absorbed of it from reading Atlas Meh'd and The Foutainballs...
Why are libertarians (whom she hated) and the religious right (she was a vigorous atheist) coming together in the Tea-Party essentially under her often unnamed patronage? Because the justification of selfishness always makes you fell better about your personal greed, and they are not the same thing.
Alan Greenspan was an adoring acolyte and by his own admission he doesn't know how the world works.
Me, I always hated Gary Coper for blowing up those buildings because I am an expat and we expats LOVE condos with balconies. (less)
Moving reflective 'fictional' biography of Austerlitz, a displaced (as a child) person from WWII, who reflects his thoughts, reminiscences and the sto...moreMoving reflective 'fictional' biography of Austerlitz, a displaced (as a child) person from WWII, who reflects his thoughts, reminiscences and the story of his search for his lost parents with his chance interlocutor, the philosophically like-minded and peripatetic W.G. Sebald. And it's essentially done as one long paragraph... (less)