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The End of the World: The Science and Ethics of Human Extinction Paperback

ISBN-13: 978-0415184472 ISBN-10: 0415184479 Edition: New edition

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; New edition edition (April 19, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415184479
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415184472
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #249,541 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

While the concept of "oneness" with nature is foreign to most western cultures, groups such as the Hindus and the Hopi Indians have long comprehended their role in an ever-cycling universe and the inevitable coming of the end of the world. As the earth reaches 8.64 billion years--the length of the Hindu's "creation-and-destruction" cycle--Professor John Leslie of the University of Guelph in Canada thinks that the end, at least for this course of humanity, is near. Impending threats to our survival include nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare; ozone depletion; the greenhouse effect; disease; natural disasters; and even the potential for accidental production of a new Big Bang. And while trying to forestall an apocalypse would be futile, Leslie promises it will all end quickly. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Will the human race become extinct fairly shortly? Have the dangers been underestimated, and ought we to care? In seeking to answer these questions, Leslie (Universes, Routledge, 1990) examines many "doom soon" scenarios but specifically centers on mathematician Brandon Carter's "Doomsday Argument," which applies bayesian reasoning to the idea that the risk of human extinction has usually been underestimated. Leslie has built on Carter's Doomsday Argument, stating that it doesn't generate risk estimates but is rather an "argument for revising the...estimates that we generate when we consider various possible dangers." Even so, Leslie estimates that the entire human race has a 30 percent chance of annihilation by nuclear war, disease, or some other means in the next 500 years. This intriguing work may be of interest to philosophers, population studies scholars, biologists, and human ecologists and is recommended for academic libraries.?Susan Maret, Auraria Lib., Univ. of Colorado, Denver
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 28, 2001
Format: Paperback
Some of the reviews below miss the point of John Leslie's book. Professor Leslie is a utilitarian philosopher at the University of Guelph in Ontario, and as such he's written this book with the express objective of providing a warning to civilization of the dangers that lie ahead. In spite of what the book's title may initially suggest, the book is not the work of some gloomy apocalyptic doomsayer; rather, it is a sensible consideration of the perils that an advanced civilization like our own must overcome over the next crucial period to advance. It's easy to simply take civilization for granted, but Leslie's point is that its survival is not guaranteed, but depends on the choices that we make in the near future. Prof. Leslie asserts that if humanity can make it past the next few centuries then civilization will be in fairly good shape; it's the period soon to be upon us that will be so rocky, with dangers in everything from the spread of nuclear weapons to the practice of biological warfare, from impacting asteroids to poorly thought-out particle physics experiments gone awry, from chemical weapons to the biggest threat of all-- the destruction of earth's fragile ecosystem upon which we all rely, but so often do not recognize. What Leslie is calling for is wisdom, and for the practice of restraint and discipline on a societal scale, to avoid the petty squabbles and foolish waste of resources that we can no longer afford. Admittedly some of the methodology used in the book is flawed and has been shown to be problematic, but this does not belittle its value.Read more ›
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 27, 1997
Format: Hardcover
Being tremendously interested in the end of the world (from a sociology standpoint) I immediately devour any books on catastrophism, eschatology or millenialism.
What John Leslie offers here is something quite different than the run-of-the-mill babbling on possible scenarios. He looks at the likely(and not so likely) events which may trigger "the end"; somewhat similar to Asimov's approach in his 70's non-fic A CHOICE OF CATASTROPHES. Leslie takes us a little deeper into the complexities of these situations by examining the true risks and consequences involved, all the while maintaining a solid scientific objectivity.
All this would make for a great book alone, but Leslie goes further. He has the courage to explore the idea that perhaps we are arrogant in assuming we can control our fate as a species (hence the ETHICS portion of the book title) and maybe we have lost (or never had) the necessary objectivity we need to endure.
A truly fascinating book about something the average human being doesn't (but should) think about.
Kudos to John Leslie for putting humans where they belong in the scheme of the universe: the tiny little box marked "naked & vulnerable"!
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful By J. Michael Showalter on August 30, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The reviewer below misses the thrust of Leslie's argument. Initially, in the first two chapters of the book, he sets out to list ALL of the ways through which society could become extinct (a notion that has not been held in high esteem for policymaking relevance, anyway, in modern society). As such, he does borrow a lot from other authors. And, adding in, his lifting of the mathematical equation suggesting that we are near the end of 'our' time on the Earth makes mathematical sense, even if being totally anthropomorphic.... And the case is made, if you let it be, that we should probably start thinking about how we are going to 'go', and plan thereof....
Aside from that, this book is a riot. The first two chapters, though morbid, are a laugh. The book (setting aside the good philosophy) should be read just for the initial paranoia. It's all in good fun....
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Davis on October 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
John Leslie is a professor of philosophy at the University of Guelph. Much of this book is taken up with explorations of, criticisms of, and defences of the 'Doomsday Argument', championed by Leslie and cosmologist Brandon Carter. The 'Doomsday Argument' goes something like this:

-if humanity were to continue to prosper and multiply, eventually spreading beyond the solar system, and perhaps the galaxy, the total number of human beings today (6 billion) will seem insignificant compared to the potential trillions and trillions of humans in the future. But if this were to actually happen, humans today would be among the very earliest of the race -perhaps in the first 0.1 per cent or even 0.001 per cent. How likely is it that we are that special? In the year 2090 the population of earth might be 12 billion people. Of all the humans who had ever lived, one in ten would be alive in that year. Instead of expecting to be in a remarkably early stage of human civilization, say in the first 0.1 per cent, it is much more likely that an inhabitant of the year 2090 will be among that 1 in 10 present when humanity died.

To me this argument seems flimsy, sophistic, and somehow just wrong, but Leslie does an impressive and thorough job of refuting the many objections to it. My eyes glazed over during some of these detailed and convoluted defences, but then I only took one philosophy course in university. What I liked this book for was the exploration of the many delicious ways in which humanity could be wiped out. Some of these faces of doom might seem quite far-fetched and unlikely, but all have some formidable scientists and philosophers backing them. Here is an abbreviated list:
-nuclear war.
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