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Our Final Hour Hardcover – March 18, 2003

3.7 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Just when you've stopped worrying and learned to love the bomb, along comes Sir Martin Rees, Britain's Astronomer Royal, with teeming armies of deadly viruses, nanobots, and armed fanatics. Beyond the hazards most of us know about--smallpox, terrorists, global warming--Rees introduces the new threats of the 21st century and the unholy political and scientific alliances that have made them possible. Our Final Hour spells out doomsday scenarios for cosmic collisions, high-energy experiments gone wrong, and self-replicating machines that steadily devour the biosphere. If we can avoid driving ourselves to extinction, he writes, a glorious future awaits; if not, our devices may very well destroy the universe.

What happens here on Earth, in this century, could conceivably make the difference between a near eternity filled with ever more complex and subtle forms of life and one filled with nothing but base matter.

For many technological debacles, Rees places much of the blame squarely on the shoulders of the scientists who participate in perfecting environmental destruction, biological menaces, and ever-more powerful weapons. So is there any hope for humanity? Rees is vaguely optimistic on this point, offering solutions that would require a level of worldwide cooperation humans have yet to exhibit. If the daily news isn't enough to make you want to crawl under a rock, this book will do the trick. --Therese Littleton

From Publishers Weekly

Nano-machines stand poised to revolutionize technology and medicine, but what happens if these minuscule beasties break their leash and run amok? Rees, the U.K.'s Astronomer Royal and prolific author (Just Six Numbers; Our Cosmic Habitat), warns that the 21st century may well witness the extinction of mankind, a doomsday more likely to be caused by human error than by a natural catastrophe. Bioterrorists are the most widely publicized threat at the moment, but well-intentioned scientists, Rees says, are capable of accidentally wiping out mankind via genetically engineered superpathogens that create unprecedented pandemics, or even through something as weird as high-energy particle experiments that backfire and cause the universe to implode. Rees poses some hard questions about scientists' responsibility to forsake research that might lead to a malevolent genie being let out of its bottle and even to restrict the sharing of scientific information to prevent it from getting into the wrong hands. Ultimately, though, Rees sounds more alarmist than precautionary. Some may find him overly optimistic on what science will be capable of doing in the next quarter century. Rees makes some provocative points, but the book falls short of what readers expect from a scientist of his stature.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (March 19, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465068626
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465068623
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #437,630 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By M. A Michaud on November 12, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"The theme of this book," Martin Rees writes, "is that humanity is more at risk than at any earlier phase in its history." Natural risks such as colliding with an asteroid have not changed; they are the baseline. What is new is the power that science has given small numbers of people - possibly as few as one - to endanger the entire species. Our destiny depends increasingly on choices that we make ourselves. These are important themes that should have been developed in more detail. Unfortunately, some of this relatively short book is taken up with futurist padding separated from the main point.
Rees begins with familiar threats from nuclear and biological weapons, noting Fred Ikle's view that only an oppressive police state could assure total government control over novel tools of mass destruction. Rees then turns to the implications of genetic engineering, including the creation of new forms of life that could feed off other materials in our environment. Thanks to genetic engineering, the nature of humans could begin to change within this century; human character and physique will soon be malleable. The potential threats may remind some readers of Frank Herbert's novel The White Plague, in which a lone scientist creates a spectacular method of revenge.
Rees is most effective when he describes the potential implications of scientific experiments, particularly in particle physics. He notes that some experiments are designed to generate conditions more extreme than ever occur naturally. Here readers will learn about the possible human creation of black holes and strangelets. Errors and unpredictable outcomes are a growing cause for worry; calculations of risk are based on probability rather than certainty.
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Format: Hardcover
It's strange how many "the world is going to end" books cross my desk. Our Final Hour: A Scientist's Warning: How Terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind's Future In This Century--On Earth and Beyond is the latest offering is by Sir Martin Rees, England's Astronomy Royal, and delves into the possiblility that the fate of humanity, the Earth, and maybe even the entire universe is in the hands of well-intentioned (or malicious) scientists as they push the boundaries of nature.
Scientists will destroy the world! We've all heard that before, but found it kind of a strange statement coming from one of the more prominent scientists in the world. In "Our Final Hour", however, Rees makes some well-reasoned arguments about the dangers of scientific exploration. Not that we shouldn't explore nature, just that we should be mindful of the risks and take extra precautions.
The book is a quick read, only 228 pages, and takes us through the range of doomsday scenarios that scientists can unleash: environmental disasters that warm/cool the Earth and make it unlivable; bioterrorism that could unleash a plague of germs on the populace; and exotic physics experiments that could convert all matter in the universe into something... unpleasant.
Rees is calm and reasoned in his arguments; at no point does he stray into "science is bad" rants. Instead, he adopts the tone of a scientific professional, concerned about the ethical implications of scientific discovery. But he doesn't argue that science should be slowed down, in fact, Rees believes that it's pretty much impossible to stop scientific development. For every country that has a ban on genetic research, there will be one happy to support it.
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Format: Hardcover
Martin Rees, in Our Final Hour (A Scientist's Warning), gets his point across. Humanity's chances on earth have a 50/50 probablility, in the author's opinion, of making it into the end of the century. The book is too short, though, to truly give the reader an understanding of the several ways briefly described that may end life as we know it. It is a blur of despair with elements of hope scattered throughout. The author should have trusted the intelligence of the reader a little more and actually been more descriptive in his science. The reader will come away with a numb feeling but no true understanding. This book is still important for what is does provide and is briefly illuminating in its descriptions of science gone too far, as well as the many other varied possible ending prophesied. An important book that will hopefully lead to more thorough accounts. Not for the light of heart.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am a doom and gloom type person, so I bought this book with some eagerness. However, as pointed out in some of the other reviews, the book is disappointingly superficial in its coverage of issues and lacking in scholarship. Take, for example, the section on the dangers of nanotechnology. Michael Crichton's "Prey" does an infinitely better job of detailing what nanotechnology is all about and how it might go wrong. Similarly, if you're interested in viruses running amok, buy Preston's "Hot Zone" and "Demon in the Freezer" instead as a fascinating and gripping introduction and then tackle Laurie Garrett's "The Coming Plague" for a truly comprehensive treatment of the subject. As another example, Bill Bryson's recent book does a better job of describing threats due to possible geological disasters such as volcanoes...you get the picture. I found myself wishing at every chapter that the author had given more detail and provided more background on the threats he desribes. My bottom line? If you are also a doom and gloom person, save your money and wait for the paperback; there's enough in here to keep you mildly entertained, even if none of it is particularly new. If you're not into contemplating the destruction of the earth, skip this book entirely.
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