- Series: Science Essentials
- Hardcover: 208 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press; Book Club edition (April 20, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0691130752
- ISBN-13: 978-0691130750
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 21 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,084,750 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Medea Hypothesis: Is Life on Earth Ultimately Self-Destructive? (Science Essentials) Book Club Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Author and Earth Sciences professor Ward (of the Univ. of Wash.) has authored numerous books for non-specialists (Under a Green Sky, Rare Earth); this latest is a critical response to James Lovelock's Gaia concept, which argues that homeostatic physical and chemical interactions work to maintain Earth's habitability. Ward argues, passionately, that the opposite is true-that living organisms decrease Earth's habitability, hastening its end by perhaps a billion years. His conclusion, more political than scientific, is that humans must engineer the environment to sustain life. Ward provides examples of the food chain in failure, which results in an imbalanced environment and, ultimately, mass extinctions. Unfortunately, Ward's arguments (and some of his facts) are flawed; many examples focus on short periods of time, ignoring "first causes" that usually include a natural but temporally and/or geologically distant event (massive volcanic eruptions, ocean impacts, etc.). Moreover, ecological balance was indeed restored over the course of thousands or millions of years, as new organisms evolve to fill the ecological niche left by extinct species. Ward's criticisms have merit, but his Medea hypothesis is only valid on an evolutionarily insignificant scale; the reality is probably some combination of the Gaia and Medea approaches. Unfortunately, Ward doesn't help his case with misanthropic sentiment and occasionally garbled syntax.
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One of the 2009 New York Times Magazine's 9th Annual Featured Books in Ideas
"Ward holds the Gaia Hypothesis, and the thinking behind it, responsible for encouraging a set of fairy-tale assumptions about the earth, and he'd like his new book, due out this spring, to help puncture them. He hopes not only to shake the philosophical underpinnings of environmentalism, but to reshape our understanding of our relationship with nature, and of life's ultimate sustainability on this planet and beyond."--Drake Bennett, Boston Globe
"Author and Earth Sciences professor Ward has authored numerous books for non-specialists; this latest is a critical response to James Lovelock's Gaia concept, which argues that homeostatic physical and chemical interactions work to maintain Earth's habitability. Ward argue, passionately, that the opposite is true--that living organisms decrease Earth's habitability, hastening its end by perhaps a billion years."--PublishersWeekly.com
"When avid science readers browse the shelves for new titles, the books that grab their attention are best described by a single adjective: thought-provoking. And no scientist/author is more provocative in his approach and innovative in his thinking than University of Washington astrobiologist Peter Ward . . . . [R]eaders looking for solace will not find it in Ward's latest effort, The Medea Hypothesis. This time Ward goes after motherhood itself--or at least the central idea of the Gaia ('good mother') hypothesis that has evolved to describe the relationship between life and the planet as a whole."--Fred Bortz, Seattle Times
"Reading the book will widen your field of vision about life on earth, which is still there after about 4 billion years."--Dr. Hein van Bohemen, Ecological Engineering
"The point of The Medea Hypothesis is that life, rather than helping to regulate the Earth 'System' by negative feedbacks, does all it can to consume the resources available--sowing the seeds of its own extinction."--Dr. Henry Gee, BBC Focus Magazine
"[Ward] makes his points succinctly and supports them well."--Rebecca Wigood, Vancouver Sun
"[The Medea Hypothesis] is an interesting intellectual exercise on the history of life."--Choice
"Ward . . . adopts the tone of a planetary mortician gruesomely interested in his subject's decease. Ward is an expert on mass extinctions, and the subject seems to have infected his general outlook. He does not come across a happy camper."--Roger Gathman, Austin American-Statesman
"The Medea Hypothesis is a valuable and well-needed challenge to the hegemony of Gaian thought, and this is a very clearly presented and thought provoking book. . . . Ward's book is a crucial step in opening this debate and I would certainly recommend reading it, but with a critical eye open for chinks in the argument."--Lewis Dartnell, Astrobiology Society of Britain
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I read this years ago and continue to think about its theories frequently to attempt to better understand our present.