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Long for This World: The Strange Science of Immortality Hardcover – Bargain Price, June 22, 2010

3.6 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, June 22, 2010
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Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, June 2010: With the bookshelves full of deathless vampires these days, it's refreshing to read about immortality in the real world for a change. In Long for This World, Jonathan Weiner, who won a Pulitzer Prize for The Beak of the Finch, has written an elegant, curious, and personal account of the modern scientific search for a Fountain of Youth. The search for immortality has long been seen as a fanciful, alchemic quest, and the study of aging a mere biological backwater, but recent advances in both evolutionary and molecular biology have made the prospect of finding a cure for our apparently inevitable deterioration seem tantalizingly reachable, at least to figures like Aubrey de Grey, the bearded, beer-drinking English researcher whose impossibly confident drive toward thousand-year life spans is at the center of Weiner's tale. Is Weiner convinced? He's appealingly skeptical, and clear enough in explaining the science to make us equally so: if aging is a disease, it's at least as complicated to cure as cancer (and in fact would require us to cure cancer, along with everything else that hunts us down). But he presents the optimists' case with verve and appreciation, making their quest to exceed our human limits into a wonderfully human story. --Tom Nissley

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The promise of eternal youth is both tantalizingly close and far-fetched in this fascinating primer on longevity research. Pulitzer Prize–winning science writer Weiner (The Beak of the Finch) focuses on amateur gerontologist and oddball visionary Aubrey de Grey, a charismatic motormouth who has won a respectful scientific hearing for his argument that we will soon achieve life spans of thousands of years. (His immortality program starts with the removal of a gunky cellular buildup called lipofuscin.) Weiner takes readers on an engrossing tour of cutting-edge research, while citing established life-cycle experts like Shakespeare and Yeats, and he has a knack for translating science into evocative metaphor. He tempers the "prolongevist" optimism with some daunting reality: evolution never engineered humans to last forever, the bodyÖs myriad modes of decay may make that goal impossible, and reaching it, he speculates, might render us morbidly averse to risk or even to having children. WeinerÖs erudite, elegant exposition of the underlying science is stimulating yet sobering.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; 1st edition (June 22, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060765364
  • ASIN: B004R96TTQ
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,948,298 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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By Bruce Loveitt on May 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was very disappointed in this book, and here's why: First the pros...Weiner gives a lot of pagetime to Aubrey David Nicholas Jasper de Grey. Great name, eh? He is a brilliant and colorful man who is an enthusiastic proponent of the idea that science can, and soon will, enable us to live virtually forever. Aubrey's optimism is refreshing. Whether it is realistic or not I am not qualified to say, as I don't have a background in biology. And with his elongated frame, gaunt countenance, slovenly dress, biblical beard and nonstop beer-swilling he is fun to read about. Another positive is the author's explanation of the basic problem: our cells are constantly mutating and malfunctioning, and as we get older the "mistakes" add up as the body loses the ability to make corrections. So far, so good...but here are the negatives: Perversely, the almost exclusive concentration on Aubrey de Grey makes this more of a colorful "New Yorker" type piece, or mini-biography, than a rigorous exploration of all the work going on in this field. There are snippets of what other people who are doing work in this area think, but these ideas and opinions are not examined or explained in any detail. The book basically comes down to this: Aubrey de Grey thinks that we will come up with a way to clean up the mistakes that occur in our genetic codes, and other people think it's too complicated or it's too soon to tell. But, again, we are not given enough of a rounded picture to come to our own conclusions. There is also a sort of half-hearted attempt to wax philosophical about whether it would be good to be immortal, but this is done in a rather cursory manner. For example, Mr. Weiner makes an assumption that if we lived almost indefinitely, we wouldn't want to have children...Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As a biochemist, I once did research on aging. I wanted to know why the several trillion cells in our body deteriorate in much the same way that our automobiles deteriorate with age. The answer was that the complex systems for repair and replacement of cell machinery slowly, and finally rapidly, stop repairing and replacing parts. As a result, the cells die, and so does the living creature, whether human or worm. I suspected that the cause of this might be damage to the many genes controlling the repair and replacement process. Now, it seems likely that something of this sort is the case, and it raises the question of how long we can live if we can get the repair and replacement process started again.
In this excellent and very readable book, Weiner presents a status report of research progress on extending life, and he faces the question of living forever. In his search for answers, he has the aid of Aubrey de Grey of Cambridge University, a scientist who bubbles with ideas. I was fortunate at one time to be in an online discussion group on aging that included Aubrey de Grey. The stimulation he brought was amazing. Now, you can read some of his thinking, as related by Weiner, along with the setting in which it occurred.
Aubrey de Grey suggests that unlimited life is certainly on the way. His arguments are good, and I note that a growing number of researchers have concluded that aging cells wear out much like the parts of our automobiles. We can combat some of this wear by replacing vital organs, but the real feat is to get those defective control genes replaced or working again. Researchers are finding and working on some of the genes. As a result, they have extended, and even doubled, the life spans of creatures in the laboratory. Thus, much longer life is possible.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Humanity's fear of death has yielded many odd things. It has given us expensive cosmetics and odd potions (current fascination with "ionized water" is just the latest in this endless thread). It has given us visions of an afterlife, well-stocked with trout and virgins. But it has also given us the Pyramids and Keats, vaccines and Brahms, sanitation and farming. As Jonathan Weiner's readable book demonstrates, we've been just a few years from a cure--for millennia.

As we've come to learn more about evolution and the processes of life, we have begun to gain some insight into the mechanisms of aging. It is deeply built into the way our biology works. Four billion years of evolution mean that there's a lot to untangle. Weiner takes us into the labs of many biologists and experimentalists, each working on one small key to the puzzle. He examines the bitter debate between the "skin-ins", those who study biology at the molecular level, and the "skin-outs", who study the emergent properties of complete ecosystems. All of this is written in an engaging style that will inform any reader with a modicum of scientific curiosity. Weiner knows his literature as well, often referring to relevant passages in ancient Chinese and Indian poetry or classical Western thought. I really AM going to have to get to Dante some day.

Most scientists are modest in characterizing their own knowledge and the impact it will have on human lifespans. A few more years might be a reasonable expectation. But there are those (as there always have been) who assume that we can achieve virtual immortality with just a few small steps. In Weiner's book, the stand-in for this point of view is a man named Aubrey de Grey.

De Grey is a genuine character, of a type that's somewhat familiar to me.
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