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Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  1,358 ratings  ·  263 reviews
Thirty years ago Bill McKibben offered one of the earliest warnings about climate change. Now he broadens the warning: the entire human game, he suggests, has begun to play itself out.

Bill McKibben’s groundbreaking book The End of Nature -- issued in dozens of languages and long regarded as a classic -- was the first book to alert us to global warming. But the danger is br
Hardcover, 291 pages
Published April 16th 2019 by Henry Holt & Company
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Aug 15, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
Sprawling and messy, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? haphazardly examines two of the biggest threats to civilization today: climate change and technological overreach. Author Bill McKibben first surveys the (ever-worsening) ecological catastrophe wrought by climate change across the globe and then considers the threats posed by rapidly developing, unregulated forms of technology, from artificial intelligence to human genetic modification; finally, he considers how humans mig ...more
David Wineberg
Jan 31, 2019 rated it liked it
America is being held hostage by a curmudgeonly few who insist there is no man-made climate change. Meanwhile, the vast majority of both citizens and scientists seethes. To that, Bill McKibben’s Falter proposes two solutions: solar panels everywhere, and forcing a cultural shift using nonviolent organizing. He doesn’t tackle the huge overpopulation issue, forcing gas and diesel vehicles off the road, mass extinctions, or even what to be aware of in the coming years. It is rather odd for an envir ...more
57th book for 2019.

I would like to find nice things to say about this book, as I am sure McKibben's heart is in the right place, but this book is a hot mess.

McKibben's basic contention is that the human dream—whatever that is—is 'faltering'. We are rushing at high speed into climate change, designer babies and AI superlords, and this all has to do with the 1% having been weened on the cold dry objectivist nipples of Ayn Rand. His solution, which isn't really spelt out in any detail, is solar pa
David Schaafsma
Jun 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: environment
“A writer doesn’t owe a reader hope—the only obligation is honesty. . .”

I think of Bill McKibben as perhaps the leading environmental writer today; certainly he is one of them. He’s emerged, largely because of his activism through his organization,, as a leader, helping organize the fight against the Keystone Pipeline, helping get universities and other organizations to divest from fossil fuels. As an environmental activist myself for close to fifty years, I have been reading about the d
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
Bill McKibben goes after much more than climate change in this book. He goes after the posthuman movement, libertarians, and the far right, oil companies, Ayn Rand, Ronald Reagan. This book takes in the sweeping panorama of the moment which is on the precipice and addresses most of the major players on the political stage at the moment. McKibben is an environmentalist so he knows things are dire but his analysis of what got us here is some of the best political writing of the American scene and ...more
Randall Wallace
May 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
Scientists believe the end of the Cretaceous period came with a “rock larger than Mt. Everest traveling twenty times faster than a bullet” slammed into the Gulf of Mexico leading to a 1,000ft tall tsunami and a “blizzard of meteorites”. Scientists believe the end of the Cretinous period, will when Americans stop believing in endless growth on a finite planet. A barrel of oil is equal today to 23,000 hours of human labor. Unburned methane that escapes to air, traps heat 80x more efficiently than ...more
Jan 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
if greed warps your life, you assume it must warp everyone's.
if bill mckibben's prescient warnings had been heeded some thirty years ago, perhaps his new book wouldn't be so urgent and grievous. presuming the question asked in falter's subtitle isn't a rhetorical one, has the human game begun to play itself out?, a preponderance of the evidence seems to offer a resounding, unequivocal 'yes' in reply. the 350.0rg founder's writing remains incisive and engaging, but falter isn't likely to find
howl of minerva
May 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: climate-ecology
A cri-de-coeur for the planet. All the things we work on and worry about will be brought to naught if these existential concerns are not addressed. The simultaneously worst and best thing is that the solutions exist and are feasible... The clock is running down...
Aug 22, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, read-2019
Falter is a screed on climate change and the end of times. I love dystopian novels, but the this book is nonfiction and its first third is written (metaphorically) in all caps. It does not explore issues, allowing up to draw conclusions, but forces them down our throats while we choke.

And I am choir. I believe in climate change, have recycled since I was a teenager, and don't eat meat, at least partially for ecological reasons. Despite being a member of the choir, Bill McKibben's style of argume
Sep 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a book about the possibility that the human species is in its twilight, either due to ecological collapse or transhumanist technologies that will effectively make humanity superfluous. I was hoping for a more novel framework based on his idea of the "human game" (more or less the career of the species, discarding any outside metaphysical measures like divine judgement), but for the most part he focuses on running down the existential threats posed by climate change, AI and human bioengin ...more
Conor Ahern
In some ways, this is the scariest book I have ever read. McKibben's object is questioning whether humans--because of natural limits or the consequences of our actions--are doomed to plateau, regress, or die out.

McKibben takes a panoramic view of the poor choices we have made and the various precipices we have driven ourselves off of as a species. In the same way that Yuval Hariri (whom he name drops multiple times in this short book) chronicles all of the ways in which humans may be progressing
Aug 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the most important book I believe I have ever read. To say it is sobering is an understatement. Every sentence is full of facts, figures and deep meaning about the future of our planet and humanity in general, and I would have been better served to read this rather than listen to it. It took me 3 weeks of careful listening, and constant rewinding, during which I took 5 pages of notes which I will compile into a more detailed review here once I settle down from the awful reality of this b ...more
Apr 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book should be required reading for everyone—it is by turns sobering, infuriating and eye-opening and written throughout in clear, conversational (and even at times humorous) prose that manages to make a scientific study read like a page turner. Bill McKibben begins Falter with a survey of the symptoms of climate change that are currently threatening our planet; although I was familiar with these issues on some level already, he marshals so many frightening examples and statistics that the ...more
Oct 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: librarything
"Put simply, between ecological destruction and technological hubris, the human experiment is now in question."~ Falter by Bill McKibben

I was a teenager in the late 1960s when I read Ayn Rand's novels. I was still reading for story and too young to understand Rand's philosophy. I never returned to reread her books. Bill McKibben's Falter has educated me on Rand and the impact of her ideas on shaping the world we live in today.

The list of Rand-inspired movers and shakers is impressive: Alan Green
May 02, 2019 rated it liked it
This book presents a good overview of what McKibben refers to as the human game - human life and our responsibility to the planet as well as future generations, and the factors that are shaping the present moment and threatening our future: climate change, AI, corporate greed, gene modification. McKibben makes some excellent critiques and his writing is engaging enough that it kept me interested throughout. I particularly liked the notion of the "game," even if it does seem rather romantic. What ...more
Roger Gloss
May 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
McKibben’s new book is far-ranging and deeply philosophical. Who would have expected him to get deeply into artificial intelligence and genetic engineering (besides, of course, climate change), and then tie it all together? I wish I could say I feel better now, having read Falter, but I don’t. Nor was that McKibben’s intent, to make us feel better. The house is, indeed, on fire.
Kathleen Flynn
I don't know when I've read a nonfiction book that made such a nakedly transparent appeal to the emotions more than the intellect. Rhetorically it is sometimes dazzling and sometimes over the top.

The first section is a depressing look at our present and likely future: a planet despoiled by climate change; greedy fossil fuel executives and Koch brothers who basically sealed the planet's doom; genetically modified babies creating a super-race of those rich enough to afford it; artificial intellig
Bryan Alexander
(Full disclosure: Bill is a friend. He was a neighbor for almost 20 years and blurbed my books.)

Falter is a bracing, ambitious, yet very accessible book. McKibben's goal is to outline what he sees as the great threats facing humanity - not mere challenges, but forces that could clobber or just end civilization. And then he gives us hope.

The dire threats start with climate change, as befits one of the world's leaders in that field. Falter then adds genetic engineering and bad forms of AI. One of
Dec 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: eco
When we buy something, it's easy to think "tada!" But everything, as McKibben writes, "comes with strings attached." Oddly, we ignore those strings and our ability to ignore everything at the end of those strings is not only a problem but it now threatens the human game. Although McKibben does not mention James P. Carse, it might be worth revisiting the opening of Finite and Infinite Games:
There are at least two kinds of games: finite and infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of win
George Crowder
Apr 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book pulled together philosophical, political, economic, scientific, and environmental trends that have deeply impacted America and the world in the last fifty years. I found it upsetting and very persuasive; it resonated with what I see playing out nationally, as well as with individuals I know personally. The chapters which confront the influence of Ayn Rand and the rise of Libertarian thinking among wealthy, powerful individuals were particularly helpful in making sense of the transforma ...more
Jun 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
I think this is one of the strongest books Bill McKibben has written - passionate, coherent, intelligent as always, but he seems to have tapped into something more in Falter.

By juxtaposing the issues of climate change and AI, McKibben seems to have identified something both obvious and profound - that some people are "not particularly attached to humans." The libertarian cult of the rich and the techno-utopians of Silicon Valley both share this radicalism - "willing to alter the chemical compos
A great book by an important environmentalist Bill McKibben who wrote Eaarth and The End of Nature. He discusses what the Earth is facing and the causes for it. He makes clear while Trump is the leader of climate denial while the gas/oil billionaires are funding his campaign and filling his cabinet. He also discusses the ideology surrounding Ann Rand’s book, The Fountainhead. He also explains what is currently happening to the Earth, what Tech company CEOs seem to be thinking about (mainly thems ...more
May 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites-2019
Everyone, please read this one.
Jul 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
A good overview of climate change, growing inequalities and the rise of artificial intelligence, fueled by idealogues on the right and the effects we are already seeing on our planet.
Jul 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
So, global warming is the ultimate problem for oil companies because oil causes it, and it's the ultimate problem for government-haters because without government intervention, you can't solve it. [p. 121]

[T]he human game . . . does come with two logical imperatives. The first is to keep it going, and the second is to keep it human. [p. 17]

Bill McKibben has a lot on his mind. Having sounded the alarm on climate change back in 1989 (cf. The End of Nature), he now returns to that topic at a time w
I’m a big fan of Bill McKibbon. He speaks the language of my conservationist heart. Part 1 (climate change) was nothing new to me, but always worth reviewing the facts. Some was clearly lifted right from The Water Will Come by Jeff Goodell. Part 2 has a really good segment on Ayn Rand objectivist philosophy cultivating the right-wing libertarian billionaires shaping modern America. Parts 3 and 4 were a little out there (designer babies, defeating death, colonizing space), but I agree with all of ...more
Finally, a book delving into both of my most terrifying obsessions—climate change and transhumanist technology—with equal depth, and discussing the interplay between them.
Barbara Rhine
Sep 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What can I say except that this is one of the most important books you will ever read.

McKibben starts with the climate crisis, on which he is a recognized expert, but he doesn't stop there. He also explores the implications of artificial intelligence, with its increasing reliance on algorithyms and robots. And then he does it for a third area, right on the horizon of what is now possible--genetic engineering.

For all three of these complex serious developments he offers deep thoughts on how the
Jun 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book runs parallel to the late Hans Rosling's "Factfulness". Whereas "Factfulness" reveals that, relative to the history of human socioeconomic conditions, many (though not all) of the once-perceived global humanitarian crises are on course to becoming obsolete, McKibben's "Falter" elaborates on the road yet ahead. New threats surge which threaten the existence not of humanity, but of ALL life on this wonderful planet Earth. Climate Change is an existential crises; germline engineering pose ...more
Aug 30, 2019 rated it liked it
McKibben wonders if the thing he calls the human game--human society, culture, dominance on the planet--has played itself out and whether we have entered the decline of humanity. He looks not only at climate change, but also at issues of inequality and technology and peers ahead to see where it all might lead if things don't change.

His conclusion is yes, the human game has begun to play itself out. And while extinction is definitely a possibility, he has hope that after everything collapses, we
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Bill McKibben is the author of Eaarth, The End of Nature, Deep Economy, Enough, Fight Global Warming Now, The Bill McKibben Reader, and numerous other books. He is the founder of the environmental organizations Step It Up and, and was among the first to warn of the dangers of global warming. In 2010 The Boston Globe called him "probably the nation's leading environmentalist," and Time maga ...more

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