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Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization 1st Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 94 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0307884916
ISBN-10: 9780307884916
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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Informed and metaphysically nuanced…Cave presents his arguments in a brisk, engaging style, and draws effectively upon a wide-ranging stock of religious, philosophical, and scientific sources, both ancient and contemporary.”
--Weekly Standard

“In his survey of the subject, Stephen Cave, a British philosopher, argues that man’s various tales of immortality can be boiled down into four basic “narratives”… For the aspiring undying, Mr Cave unfortunately concludes that immortality is a mirage. But his demolition project is fascinating in its own right…If anything, readers might want more of Mr. Cave’s crisp conversational prose.”
--The Economist

“A must-read exploration of what spurs human ingenuity.  Every once in a while a book comes along that catches me by surprise and provides me with an entirely new lens through which to view the world…Such is the case with Stephen Cave’s book Immortality…Cave presents an extremely compelling case – one that has changed my view of the driving force of civilization as much as Jared Diamond did years ago with his brilliant book Guns, Germs and Steel.”
--S. Jay Olshanksy, New Scientist magazine
 
"Cave explains how the seeking of immortality is the foundation of human achievement, the wellspring of art, religion and civilization...The author is rangy and recondite, searching the byways of elixirs, the surprises of alchemy, the faith in engineering and all the wonder to be found in discussions of life and death...Luminous."
--Kirkus Reviews
 
“A dramatic and frequently surprising story of the pursuit of immortality and its effects on human history.”
--Booklist

“A beautifully clear and entertaining look at life after death. Cave does not shrink from the hard questions. Bold and thought-provoking.”
—Eric Olson, author of The Human Animal and What Are We?
 
Immortality plumbs the depths of the human mind and ties the quest for the infinite prolongation of life into the very nature of civilization itself. Cave reveals remarkable depth and breadth of learning, yet is always a breeze to read. I thoroughly enjoyed his book—it’s a really intriguing study.”
—David Boyd Haycock, author of Mortal Coil and A Crisis of Brilliance
 
I loved this. Cave has set himself an enormous task and accomplished it—in spades. Establishing a four-level subject matter, he has stuck to his guns and never let up. As he left one level and went to the next, I was always a little worried: Would he be able to pull it off? This was especially true as he approached the end. There is a sense in which each level, as he left it smoking in the road, looked easy as he started the next. In fact, the last level, while it is the most difficult, is the best, the most satisfying. I am happy to live in the world Cave describes.”
— Charles Van Doren, author of A History of Knowledge
 
“Cave is smart, lucid, elegant and original. Immortality is an engaging read about our oldest obsession, and how that obsession propels some of our greatest accomplishments.”
—Greg Critser, author of Eternity Soup
 
“In Immortality Stephen Cave tells wonderful stories about one of humanity’s oldest desires and comes to a wise conclusion.”
— Stefan Klein, author of The Science of Happiness and The Secret Pulse of Time
 
“Cave has produced a strikingly original and compelling exploration of the age-old conundrum: Can we live forever, and do we really want to?”
—John Horgan, science journalist and author of The End of War

About the Author

Stephen Cave holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Cambridge University and, before turning to full-time writing, worked as a diplomat.  He writes regularly for the Financial Times and also contributes to the New York Times.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1 edition (April 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780307884916
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307884916
  • ASIN: 0307884910
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (94 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #337,317 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Miles D. Moore on March 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Stephen Cave's "Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How it Drives Civilization" is a well-organized, meticulously argued, elegantly written book. Cave's thesis is to descirbe what he calls the world's four "Immortality Narratives"--"Staying Alive" (prolonging physical life via medical and technological means), "Resurrection" (the traditional Christian teaching that we are reborn in the same body), "Soul" (the idea that our individual consciousness survives bodily death), and "Legacy" (gaining immortality through great deeds or our descendants). Using the stories of Nefertiti, St. Paul, Dante and Beatrice, the Dalai Lama, Alexander the Great and Gilgamesh to organize his book and argue his points, Cave demonstrates in a clear, intelligent style how each of these narratives informed society and led to great advances in art, literature, law and politics.

However, Cave--a philosopher, and thus a logician, by training--also uses scientific evidence to assess the chances of any of the Immortality Narratives being true. He concludes that all of them are almost certainly false. He is particularly scathing toward the idea of the soul, the Immortality Narrative most of the world's residents accept: "(E)verything the soul was supposed to explain--thoughts, consciousness, life itself--has been shown to be dependent on the body. We therefore have every reason to believe that all these faculties--from memory to emotion to the most basic form of awareness--cease when the body ceases. There is simply nothing left over for the soul. As a hypothesis, it is redundant."

In place of the soul, Cave offers this as consolation: "We do not linger like uninvited guests at our own funeral, nor are we plunged into the lonely void. We stop.
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Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How it Drives Civilization by Stephen Cave

" Immortality" is the fascinating and thought-provoking book about life, death and civilization. It's about humankind's quest by one or a combination of four paths that promise immortality and whether any of these paths can deliver on that promise. Finally, with the newfound wisdom it's about following a philosophy of life that provides us with a meaningful existence. Stephen Cave holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Cambridge University and a writer who skillfully provides the reader with a gem of a book that is enlightening and a joy to read. This 338-page book is broken out into four parts that correspond to the four narratives of immortality and a conclusion: Part I. Staying Alive, Part II. Resurrection, Part II. Soul, and Part IV. Legacy.

Positives:
1. A well written, accessible book for the masses.
2. A mesmerizing topic: immortality. The author treats the topic with utmost care and respect.
3. A fantastic format that follows logically with the author's overall thesis.
4. The four immortality narratives: Staying Alive, Resurrection, Soul, and Legacy. The entire book revolves around these four main paths.
5. The author clearly presents three main goals upfront and thoroughly succeeds in achieving them.
6. Each chapter begins with an interesting historical vignette in which the author highlights the main topic of the chapter.
7. In the first path of immortality the author goes through a number of examples that clearly show how the determination to stay alive and reproduce is one thing that all life forms have in common.
8. The Morality Paradox. The immortality narratives were created to resolve the paradox.
9.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Stephen Cave's book on Immortality deserves to be read and digested by anyone who sincerely wonders about the possibility of a post-death existence. According to Cave, that would be nearly all of us. Those who have already drawn a conclusion based on whatever belief system they have should stay away, given that they want to preserve their belief system. Cave methodically picks apart then discards each of the four major immortality narratives one by one.

However, he may be wrong. His scientific biases show up throughout the book and his materialism assumption is ever-present. I would have preferred an upfront admission of his underlying premise that scientific materialism is the only valid source of knowledge. Like any other unprovable assumption, regardless of how rational it may feel, it requires a large measure of faith in it to move forward with whatever argument one is weaving.

While Cave does a nice job of presenting each immortality narrative, at the end it seems that he set up four strawmen in order to knock them down and to present his fifth narrative, the Wisdom Narrative, as the champion. He may not be entirely wrong but it's a bit transparent.

That said, it is easy to agree with Cave that the Resurrection Narrative has exhausted any currency it may have once had in our collective cultures. Likewise, it is not difficult to accept the Legacy Narrative as a poor proxy for immortality.
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