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Generosity: An Enhancement Hardcover – September 29, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. About halfway into Powers's follow-up to his National Book Award–winning The Echo Maker, a Nobel Prize-winning author, during a panel discussion, talks about how genetic enhancement represents the end of human nature.... A story with no end or impediment is no story at all. This then, is a story with both. Its hero, at least initially, is Russell Stone, a failed author of creative nonfiction turned reluctant writing instructor who cannot help transmitting to his students something of his flagging faith in writing. One of them, a Berber Algerian named Thassadit Amzwar, is so possessed by preternatural happiness that she's nicknamed Miss Generosity by her prematurely jaded classmates and has emerged from the Algerian civil war that claimed the lives of her parents glowing like a blissed out mystic. After Stone learns that Thassadit may possess a rare euphoric trait called hyperthymia, her condition is upgraded from behavioral to genetic, and Powers's novel makes a dramatic shift when Thassadit falls into the hands of Thomas Kurton, the charismatic entrepreneur behind genetics lab Truecyte, whose plan to develop a programmable genome to regulate the brain's set point for well-being may rest in Miss Generosity's perpetually upbeat alleles. Much of the tension behind Powers's idea-driven novels stems from the delicate balance between plot and concept, and he wisely adopts a voice that is—sometimes painfully—aware of the occasional strain (I'm caught... starving to death between allegory and realism, fact and fable, creative and nonfiction). Like Stone and Kurton, Powers strays from mere record to attempt an impossible task: to make the world right. (Oct.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Hailed as Powers's most accessible work to date by the Denver Post and, conversely, as his most demanding novel thus far by the Washington Post, Generosity created a stir among critics. While Newsday protested the throng of subjects vying for readers' attention, others praised the complexity of Powers's novel of ideas. Critics also diverged over Powers's characters—"flesh-and-blood" (Denver Post) or "two-dimensional" (Los Angeles Times)—and his unnamed, postmodern narrator, who periodically interrupts the story to question readers' beliefs about the characters and plot. Despite these differences of opinion, all reviewers agreed that Generosity is a chilling and fascinating work that will provide readers with much food for thought.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1 edition (September 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374161143
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374161149
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #854,802 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
(4.5 stars) Once again, Richard Powers has reinvigorated the whole concept of the "novel of ideas,' writing yet another intellectual novel, based on neuroscience but defying facile categorization into genres. In some respects GENEROSITY is a social satire, and in others, it verges on science-fiction, but it also incorporates elements of metafiction, and its intellectual focus keeps the reader on his/her toes as Powers develops and expands themes and plot lines about the human genome that are both fascinating and original.

Russell Stone, a dweebish "nice guy," is teaching a course at Chicago's Mesquakie College of Art in "creative non-fiction," a genre formerly known as the "personal essay." His class consists of the usual assortment of art students of various ages with various goals, and, as they read their journal entries on successive class meetings, they soon become close. Thassadit Amzwar, a twenty-three-year-old Algerian Berber from Kabylie, however, quickly becomes the focus of the group for her perennial good humor and upbeat attitudes. Thassa has survived the ongoing Algerian Civil War, which began in 1991, supported by Islamist fundamentalists. An entry in her journal includes the discovery of her father's executed body after he wrote a letter to the newspaper challenging governmental policies, and it shocks the class, but it is her unconquerable good humor which leaves the longest-lasting impression on her classmates.

In Boston, Thomas Kurton, a pure scientist, is investigating the chemistry that underlies emotions and the genome which may be responsible for human happiness. Kurton believes that "aging is not just a disease; it's the mother of all maladies. And humankind may finally have a shot at curing it.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Jay C. Smith on October 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Generosity: An Enhancement
Many fans, myself included, appreciate Richard Powers as a humanist who can artfully bridge his understanding of sciences into his fiction, as he did in Gold Bug Variations and Galatea 2.2: A Novel, for example. In his new novel, Generosity: An Enhancement, Powers explores issues entangled in genetic engineering, questions about what it means to be human and to be happy.

The principal characters are a young Algerian woman who appears happiness gifted, Thassadit Amzwar (Thassa), and her writing teacher at a fictional Chicago college ("Mesquakie"), Russell Stone. Based on just a few exposures to Thassa in his writing class Russell begins to worry that she is too happy, which he somehow perceives to put her at risk. He involves a college counselor, Candace Weld, who after a brief informal meeting assigns a diagnostic name to Thassa's condition, "hyperthymia." The plot proceeds along two main lines from there, as television personalities and bio-engineering entrepreneurs fasten on to Thassa to serve their own ends and as a romance between Russell and Candace inches along.

Powers brings in a fair amount of what psychologists, neuroscientists, and geneticists have to say these days about the causal correlates and manifestations of happiness. His chief vehicle is his fictional genomics entrepreneur, Thomas Kurton, who takes on Thassa as an object of study and potential profit. Kurton believes there are happiness genes and he advocates market access to them for parents who want to bestow such blessings upon their children.

Powers is more satirically critical of contemporary culture in Generosity than in his earlier works.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Kathleen T. Kraemer on January 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover
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 soon develops a relationship with her. It is Stone's very use of the word "hyperthymia" that sets the ball rolling: Thassa suffers an assault (which she forgives), and during the police investigation Russell tells the authorities about Thassa's "hyperthymia;" suddenly the local media are all over the story. From there, Thomas Kurton and Tonia Schiff pick up on this unusual condition: they are working on research (Kurton) and a science story (Schiff) about a genetic enhancement for happiness. Now Thassa's life spins out of control, while at the same time, Russell's becomes happier.

The book seems to condemn and love technology; a fair reflection of people's true beliefs. Russell wouldn't dream of owning a cell phone (afraid of technology or afraid of people calling him?), yet he sits for hours doing research over the internet and reading blog entries. Kurton sees the field of genetics as one that can improve the whole human race, while he himself is without a soul: why not improve your own life there, Tommy? Nobody wants to end up alone and depressed like Russell, yet the "hive-mind" of media-fueled spin is not to be desired either.
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