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The Fate of the Species: Why the Human Race May Cause Its Own Extinction and How We Can Stop It [Kindle Edition]

Fred Guterl
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)

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Book Description

In the history of planet earth, mass species extinctions have occurred five times, about once every 100 million years. A "sixth extinction" is known to be underway now, with over 200 species dying off every day. Not only that, but the cause of the sixth extinction is also the source of single biggest threat to human life: our own inventions.

What this bleak future will truly hold, though, is much in dispute. Will our immune systems be attacked by so-called super bugs, always evolving, and now more easily spread than ever? Will the disappearance of so many species cripple the biosphere? Will global warming transform itself into a runaway effect, destroying ecosystems across the planet? In this provocative book, Fred Guterl examines each of these scenarios, laying out the existing threats, and proffering the means to avoid them.

This book is more than a tour of an apocalyptic future; it is a political salvo, an antidote to well-intentioned but ultimately ineffectual thinking. Though it's honorable enough to switch light bulbs and eat home-grown food, the scope of our problems, and the size of our population, is too great. And so, Guterl argues, we find ourselves in a trap: Technology got us into this mess, and it's also the only thing that can help us survive it. Guterl vividly shows where our future is heading, and ultimately lights the route to safe harbor.

Editorial Reviews


 "An intelligent account of the mess we are making of the planet."—Kirkus Reviews

"While Guterl’s pessimism is not for the faint of heart, it turns out to be remarkably entertaining."—Publishers Weekly

"This is a beautifully written book that will make you think and worry. Fred Guterl explains everything that could go wrong in lucid prose. It is an arresting, though unnerving combination."—Fareed Zakaria, author of The Post-American World and host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS

"It feels strange to call a book about the end of humanity elegant and engaging, but so be it. Fred Guterl has researched the many, many ways in which we could bring destruction down upon our own heads, bringing them up to date with the latest research in climatology, synthetic biology, and computer science. I hope the world doesn't crash, but if it does, I can't say Guterl didn't warn me."—Carl Zimmer, author of A Planet of Viruses

"An important, awe-inspiring book. This is a straight-from-the-shoulder assessment of the future of a humankind trapped by its own technological prowess. The Fate of the Species is written by a master of his craft with provocative, thoughtful elegance. Guterl combines measured optimism with scary scenarios in a telling synthesis of cutting edge science made understandable. This book should be required reading for everyone, and I mean everyone."—Brian Fagan, archaeologist and author of Elixir and The Great Warming

"Guterl has written 'How We Die' for the human species. From reverse genetics that creates a deadly flu virus to climate change that kills the Asian monsoons, his scenarios are so fascinating and compelling you almost forget what's at stake. Almost."—Sharon Begley, former science columnist for Newsweek and The Wall St. Journal

"The human species has no shortage of ways to meet its end—superviruses, climate change,  global famine. But unlike other species that have come and gone in the long and sometimes pitiless history of the planet, we'd be the agents of our own destruction. The good news is, a creature powerful enough to author its own demise is also smart enough to avoid it. The Fate of the Species tells both sides of that very big tale and does so with honesty, wisdom—and more than a little hope."—Jeff Kluger, author of The Sibling Effect

"The Fate of the Species somehow manages to frighten, amuse and enlighten all at the same time. It isn't about doom as much as the opportunity for the human race to come up with a happier ending to its story. Fred Guterl reveals how science can be by turns heroic, dangerous and helpless, and he proves a thoughtful, even-handed and sometimes playful guide to the risks that we ourselves have created. The news is sobering, but also fascinating and in some ways surprisingly uplifting."—David Freedman, author of Wrong

About the Author

Fred Guterl is an award-winning journalist and executive editor of Scientific American. He worked for ten years at Newsweek, most recently as deputy editor, covering the most important trends in science, technology, and international affairs. He has also appeared on CNN, Charlie Rose, the Today Show, and on other television programs to discuss popular issues in science. Guterl holds a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Rochester, and has taught science writing at Princeton University. He lives in the New York City area with his wife and two children.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1921 KB
  • Print Length: 220 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 160819258X
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1 edition (May 22, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007N6JEYW
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #422,849 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
By Seran
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I'm going to recommend Fate of the Species to my book club and to my undergraduate students in anthropology. Though my book club usually reads literature, Fate of the Species will give us the chance to discuss the existential issues we face as citizens of the 21st century in both a factual way and philosophical way. Without being sensational, the author gives readers a good feel for the immediacy of our predicaments and the ironies of our time--so we can really talk about what we would do if faced with a world changing event like a major epidemic--who would live, who would die, how would life change? From this perspective, we could have a more meaningful conversation about public policies and how our own actions affect everyone else on the planet. Great discussion topics! The author is correct in saying we need to become aware of the problems we face before we can come up with a solution. I found the chapters on superviruses and ecosystems particularly informative though throughout the entire book, Guterl shows us how we exist as part of local and global ecosystems--in terms of food resources, germs and viruses, information, security.
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37 of 45 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Technology leading to extinction May 24, 2012
By BLehner
The end is near. But just how near? And what will be the cause? In his book The Fate Of The Species Scientific American editor Fred Guterl delves into what may cause our extinction and what we can do about it.
There are many books out there discussing this topic, most of them in a very sensationalist and wildly exaggerating style. Luckily for me, this isn't the case here as the author sets a matter of fact tone which I was immediately taken with. Written in a conversational style and painting both vivid and plausible scenarios of what could happen, he takes the reader from super viruses past climate change straight to what he obviously sees as the most likely culprit of all - scientific and technological progress. Our own inventions as source and cause of our possible extinction might not sound quite as exciting as a meteor striking, but according to this survey it's scarily likely.
Regrettably, it's the minutely detailed examples, highlighting present day research, which create an imbalance, sometimes long-winded enough to break up a chapter, and often reducing the fascinating question of what might happen to a mere afterthought. Another thing I found slightly unfortunate were the thoughts on solutions being pooled into the last chapter instead of complementing the individual chapters. A general conclusion would have been more fitting in my opinion.
In short: Technology as our downfall - an interesting excursion into what may cause the next mass extinction event on our planet!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the NetGalley book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enthralling read! June 11, 2012
The Fate of the Species draws you in with its history, scientific background and the very plausible end of the world possibilities Guterl makes you consider. It's the kind of book people stop and ask you about when you are reading it - it really generates some interesting discussion. I was especially excited when my kids wanted to discuss it -- it gave us an opportunity to dialogue about something fascinating, scary and very important. A must read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Little Knowledge is Worrisome If Not Dangerous December 19, 2012
"The Fate of the Species: Why the Human Race May Cause Its Own Extinction and How We Can Stop It" by Fred Guterl, Bloomsbury USA; 2012, hardcover, 209 pp.

Superviruses, extinction, climate change, ecosystem collapse, synthetic biology and machines--"This book is about those monsters" relates Guterl. While the explication of these scenarios is a step above that of a tabloid newspaper, it is sadly not a solid bridge between the science and the reader who is looking for a science-based perspective.

For instance, Guterl proclaims that "Thomas Malthus got it wrong in the eighteenth century and Paul Ehrlich in the 1960s." That is more superficial bar-room talk than analysis. Guterl later describes why "the doomsayers turned out to be wrong" when he explains the green revolution work of Norman Borlaug. But then he waxes pessimistic while describing recent new wheat rusts--himself doomsaying. Sadly, the situation is far more complex than described here and generalizations about Malthus and Ehrlich having been wrong are superficial and do not belong in a reasoned discussion. Malthus and Ehrlich were correct in their basic thesis; Malthus just did not anticipate the work of Margaret Sanger, nor did Ehrlich forsee Norman Borlaug.

Ironically, in describing the eclectic scientist Freeman Dyson and the global warming debate, Guterl clearly acknowledges "What matters more than the merits of any particular idea is the way in which conversations about climate and many other problems we face have been framed...." He is "referring to how important issues are being turned into choices between technology on the one hand and nature on the other." True, but he goes nowhere with this dilemma.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Fred Guterl isn't afraid to take on the heavies. In "The Fate of the Species," he discusses the possibility that the human race may ultimately cause its own extinction. Not only that, he manages to write a book on that subject that is intriguing, detailed, thought-provoking, and yet somehow not an all-out bummer. As the world gets hotter and species die off by the thousands, he offers some hope that the same technology and ingenuity that's killing the planet now can also be marshaled to save it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Fear Mongering
All this book does is attempt to scare the crap out of you. It falls flat on that front and the writing style is just boring. If you love Fox News, then you'll love this book.
Published 3 months ago by Matt Anderson
5.0 out of 5 stars If you care about your childrens' future, or their childrens' future,...
Yeah, I know, like any of don't care...but most of us blow off the future in favor of what we can gain for ourselves in the present. Read more
Published 4 months ago by D. Sheresh
5.0 out of 5 stars one of the best narrated and most interesting books I have ever read
It's hard to imagine a more entertaining way of describing apocalyptic probable events. I believe every decision maker should read this book.
Published 6 months ago by Cristina Gil
3.0 out of 5 stars Civilization ending maybe, human extinction not likely
This work considers some of the perils facing humanity, some a result of our own inventions, some not. Read more
Published 12 months ago by DavidMills
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book
A good but very scary read. Every member of Congress should read this book. But that probably won't happen. The world needs to prepare for these scenarios.
Published 14 months ago by James L. Barbee
5.0 out of 5 stars The Fate of the Species
I found this book interesting. Although there are still many global warming deniers out there, there is really no doubt that it's happening, we humans are largely, if not... Read more
Published 16 months ago by James W. Hartley
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific Book --- A Must-Read
This book covers a very important subject in an especially timely manner. It is, in my opinion, concise, constructive, and compelling. I highly recommend it.
Published 18 months ago by Jude Mollenhauer
4.0 out of 5 stars A journalistic approach to human survivability
Rapid changes in our world are accelerating and bringing on new hazards faster than we can adapt to them with the safety of former times. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Willard Wells
5.0 out of 5 stars Current and Concise Information
The information is presented in a clear and concise manner and seems to be well thought out and complete. Lots about which to think!
Published 19 months ago by R. Neighbors
5.0 out of 5 stars Buy it, read it, THINK
This is the type of well-written book that truly makes you think. It is not optimistic nor pessimistic, but allows you to draw your own conclusions as to whether we will succumb... Read more
Published 20 months ago by B. Blinder
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More About the Author

Fred Guterl is an award winning journalist who has been writing about science for more than 25 years. He is currently executive editor of Scientific American. During the 2000s he was deputy editor at Newsweek International, and before that worked at various times as an editor of Discover and IEEE Spectrum. He also did a short stint at IBM under Lou Gerstner and worked as a foreign correspondent based in London, England.

Guterl's article "Riddles in the Sand" (Discover) won the Journalism Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The Overseas Press Club honored his article "The Wasteland" (Newsweek) for environmental writing (written with the help of Eve Conant and other ace Newsweek reporters). In 2011, Scientific American won the General Excellence Award for the National Society of Magazine editors for the first time in its 166-year history. The Fate of the Species is his first book.

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