Long for This World: The Strange Science of Immortality [NOOK Book]

Overview

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer Jonathan Weiner comes a fast-paced and astonishing scientific adventure story: has the long-sought secret of eternal youth at last been found?

In recent years, the dream of eternal youth has started to look like more than just a dream. In the twentieth century alone, life expectancy increased by more than thirty years—almost as much time as humans have gained in the whole span of human existence. Today a motley array of ...

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Long for This World: The Strange Science of Immortality

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Overview

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer Jonathan Weiner comes a fast-paced and astonishing scientific adventure story: has the long-sought secret of eternal youth at last been found?

In recent years, the dream of eternal youth has started to look like more than just a dream. In the twentieth century alone, life expectancy increased by more than thirty years—almost as much time as humans have gained in the whole span of human existence. Today a motley array of scientists, researchers, and entrepreneurs believe that another, bigger leap is at hand—that human immortality is not only possible, but attainable in our own time. Is there genius or folly in the dreams of these charismatic but eccentric thinkers?

In Long for This World, Jonathan Weiner, a natural storyteller and an intrepid reporter with a gift for making cutting-edge science understandable, takes the reader on a whirlwind intellectual quest to find out. From Berkeley to the Bronx, from Cambridge University to Dante's tomb in Ravenna, Weiner meets the leading intellectuals in the field and delves into the mind-blowing science behind the latest research. He traces the centuries-old, fascinating history of the quest for longevity in art, science, and literature, from Gilgamesh to Shakespeare, Doctor Faustus to "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

And he tells the dramatic story of how aging could be conquered once and for all, focusing on the ideas of those who believe aging is a curable disease. Chief among them is the extraordinary Aubrey de Grey, a garrulous Englishman who bears more than a passing resemblance to Methuselah (at 969 years, the oldest man in the Bible) and who is perhaps immortality's most radical and engaging true believer.

A rollicking scientific adventure story in the grand manner of Oliver Sacks, Long for This World is science writing of the highest order and with the highest stakes. Could we live forever? And if we could...would we want to?

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Editorial Reviews

Abraham Verghese
Weiner's strength as a writer is his ability to flesh out these complex theories without losing the reader…Even if writers become immortal, books must end, and it is by reaching the end that the reader can sit back and find meaning in the journey. Long for This World is a great trip.
—The New York Times
Village Voice
“A brilliant and improbably funny look inside the mind-bending science of immortality.”
Oliver Sacks
“I admire all of Jonathan Weiner’s books, but this one especially because of its intellectual depth and clarity, its sense of personal involvement, and its tone and wit. The chapter on the evolution of aging is particularly brilliant! I couldn’t put the book down.”
Rebecca Skloot
“Bizarre, fascinating, and fun.”
James Gleick
“I love this book. It is a mesmerizing blend of vivid (sometimes hilarious) reporting, wide-ranging scholarship, and the thoughtful probing of a great mystery. Like everything Jonathan Weiner does, it is far more than the sum of its parts.”
Jonah Lehrer
“Jonathan Weiner has done it again. In LONG FOR THIS WORLD, one of our finest science journalists explores the shadowy sword hanging over us all, weaving together the latest research with time-tested cultural wisdom. Will we ever live forever? And would we even want to?”
Timothy Ferris
“Taxes may be inevitable, but death? Maybe not so much, suggests Jonathan Weiner, one of our finest science writers, in this searching and surprisingly witty look at the scientific odds against tomorrow.”
Simon Critchley
“LONG FOR THIS WORLD is a rich and fascinating study of the longing for immortality and our lingering doubts about the possibility of surpassing our mortal limits.”
Carl Zimmer
“In LONG FOR THIS WORLD, Jonathan Weiner brings his immense talents—his masterful prose, his deep reporting, and his ability to see connections across the human experience—to one of science’s most intriguing frontiers: the science of aging.”
Abraham Verghese
“A great trip.... Weiner writes engagingly [and] explores the fractured, fuzzy science and pseudoscience of immortality.”
Kirkus Reviews
Pulitzer Prize winner Weiner (Science Writing/Columbia Univ.; His Brother's Keeper: A Story from the Edge of Medicine, 2004, etc.) offers a gripping account of the science of aging. The young field of gerontology, writes the author, is growing rapidly now that modern equipment allows biologists to closely study the molecular machinery of human cells. Yet the complex problem of aging remains a major challenge for researchers. If gerontologists are able to figure it out, life spans could take a big jump. (Average life expectancy has risen from about 20 in the Stone Age to 80 in today's developed world.) In this wonderfully crafted book, Weiner explores the history of humankind's yearning for longevity and the theories of gerontologists now working to help people live longer and alleviate the suffering of old age. The main narrative thread follows 47-year-old Aubrey de Grey, a voluble, arrogant, bearded British scientist who believes aging is a disease that can be cured through proper cleaning and repair of the body. By day a computer programmer, de Grey has emerged as a well-known figure at the fringe of gerontology, arguing at conferences and in journals that if we take action against seven types of cellular decay (repairing worn-out body parts, preventing the growth of cancers, etc.), humans could live forever. Moreover, this "general and impresario in the War on Aging" believes the breakthrough can be achieved within 25 years. Most academic scientists dismiss de Grey's claims as wildly optimistic, but many recognize his insights and even co-author papers with him. Demystifying the workings of the mitochondria that power our cells, the author brings to life the various theories of aging advanced by researchers such as gerontologist Ana Maria Cuervo, who agrees with de Grey that "the key to the problem of aging may well lie in a kind of sophisticated detoxification of our cells." Weiner's lucid, brightly paced narrative brims with snapshots of scientists, stories of experiments and informed speculations on what the conquest of aging would mean for the human experience. Immensely readable and informative. Events in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062000217
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/22/2010
  • Sold by: HARPERCOLLINS
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 493,765
  • File size: 345 KB

Meet the Author

Jonathan Weiner is one of the most distinguished popular-science writers in the country: his books have won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Slate, Time, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, The New Republic, Scientific American, Smithsonian, and many other newspapers and magazines, and he is a former editor at The Sciences. His books include The Beak of the Finch; Time, Love, Memory; and His Brother's Keeper. He lives in New York, where he teaches science writing at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

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Table of Contents

I The Phoenix

1 Immortal Longings 3

2 The Problem of Mortality 24

3 Life and Death of a Cell 45

4 Into the Nest of the Phoenix 71

II The Hydra

5 The Evolution of Aging 87

6 The Garbage Catastrophe 117

7 The Seven Deadly Things 145

8 The Methuselah Wars 175

9 The Weakest Link 197

III The Good Life

10 Long for This World 223

11 The Trouble with Immortality 246

12 The Everlasting Yes and No 268

Acknowledgments 283

Notes on Sources and Further Reading 285

Index 299

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