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The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us

The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us

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by Diane Ackerman

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Winner of the 2015 National Outdoor Book Award for Natural History Literature and the 2015 PEN New England Henry David Thoreau Prize.

A dazzling, inspiring tour through the ways that humans are working with nature to try to save the planet.

Ackerman is justly celebrated for her unique insight into the natural world and our place in it. In this


Winner of the 2015 National Outdoor Book Award for Natural History Literature and the 2015 PEN New England Henry David Thoreau Prize.

A dazzling, inspiring tour through the ways that humans are working with nature to try to save the planet.

Ackerman is justly celebrated for her unique insight into the natural world and our place in it. In this landmark book, she confronts the unprecedented reality that one prodigiously intelligent and meddlesome creature, Homo sapiens, is now the dominant force shaping the future of planet Earth.

Humans have "subdued 75 percent of the land surface, concocted a wizardry of industrial and medical marvels, strung lights all across the darkness." We tinker with nature at every opportunity; we garden the planet with our preferred species of plants and animals, many of them invasive; and we have even altered the climate, threatening our own extinction. Yet we reckon with our own destructive capabilities in extraordinary acts of hope-filled creativity: we collect the DNA of vanishing species in a "frozen ark," equip orangutans with iPads, and create wearable technologies and synthetic species that might one day outsmart us. With her distinctive gift for making scientific discovery intelligible to the layperson, Ackerman takes us on an exhilarating journey through our new reality, introducing us to many of the people and ideas now creating—perhaps saving—our future and that of our fellow creatures.

A beguiling, optimistic engagement with the changes affecting every part of our lives, The Human Age is a wise and beautiful book that will astound, delight, and inform intelligent life for a long time to come.

Editorial Reviews

Diane Ackerman's new book addresses a vast and elemental subject: What humans have done to shape and change the world. The author of A Natural History of the Senses and An Alchemy of the Mind is no stranger to grappling with huge topics, but in the midst of ongoing debates about climate change and resource exhaustion, perhaps none can match the pertinence of The Human Age. Earthlings have been affecting the planet ever since we became a species, but in recent centuries, our impact has been nothing less than explosive. Ackerman's tome is no gloom-and-doom narrative; indeed, in a poet's prose, she describes imaginative scientific breakthroughs being made to preserve and improve the world we share. (P.S. Certain to receive widespread coverage and reviews.)

Library Journal
Ackerman, author of literary discussions of science and nature, including Dawn Light and Natural History of the Senses, has taken on the Anthropocene (Age of Man), the term for the current geologic epoch popularized by Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen in 2000. Ackerman describes how our world has changed because of our choices and actions and how this, in turn, has changed us, and optimistically asks how we can change our path and our world for the better. Very literate chapters describe a variety of topics, such as living buildings, blurring the indoor and outdoor, apes using computers, world changes in weather, robotics, and DNA. The material includes approachable examples—climate change in the author's own backyard, for example. Ackerman only lightly covers most of the science but she writes so well that the book will spark readers' interest in examining further what humans are doing. Elizabeth Kolbert's recent The Sixth Extinction has more science but Ackerman is a lighter read. VERDICT Patrons interested in environment, climate change, or endangered species will appreciate this title. [See Prepub Alert, 3/17/14.]—Jean E. Crampon, Univ. of Southern California, Los Angeles, Lib.
Jonathan Weiner
“Diane Ackerman writes with brilliance, zest, and high style. In a difficult time, we need to hear this voice of human affirmation. It's important. It matters. I read The Human Age and thought, Yes! This is the way to look ahead.”
Nathanial Rich - New York Times
“An ode to the planet we’ve created for ourselves… Rarely grim, and the overwhelming spirit is one of relentless optimism.”
Rob Nixon - New York Times Book Review
“Ackerman has established herself over the last quarter of a century as one of our most adventurous, charismatic, and engrossing public science writers…she has demonstrated a rare versatility, a contagious curiosity, and a gift for painting quick, memorable tableaus drawn from research across a panoply of disciplines. The Human Age displays all of these alluring qualities…The Human Age is a dazzling achievement: immensely readable, lively, polymathic, audacious.”
Jared Diamond
“Diane Ackerman’s vivid writing, inexhaustible stock of insights, and unquenchable optimism have established her as a national treasure, and as one of our great authors. You’re now about to become addicted to Diane Ackerman.”
Siddhartha Mukherjee
“In this amazingly illuminating book, Diane Ackerman explains our future with her typically intoxicating blend of scholarship, wisdom, grace and humor.”
Terry Tempest Williams
“The Human Age allows us to consider whether or not we will accept destruction or restoration as our legacy. I cannot imagine a richer text of image and insight, rendered with grace, intelligence and stamina.”
Lawrence Weschler
“With this stirringly vivid, darkbright manifesto, Diane Ackerman summons us to the wager of sheer possibility: life against death, delight still (if only just barely) trouncing despair.”
Ben Dickinson - Elle
“A book to dip around in—skimming some parts and perusing others with care—as your interest guides you, enjoying Ackerman’s profound sense of mind play as you go.”
Kyle Anderson - Entertainment Weekly
“A hard look at the impact that humans have had on Earth… thought provoking.”
Barbara J. King - Washington Post
“Fascinating… Ackerman offers a cross-cultural tour of human ingenuity … Her words invite us to feel the hope she feels.”
Beth Kephart - Chicago Tribune
“Part immersion memoir and part journalism… The Human Age is also many parts poetry.”
Lee E. Cart - Shelf Awareness
“[A] thought-provoking analysis of our connection to the earth… A lens that magnifies and clarifies the fascinating, far-reaching effects humans have had on our planet and ourselves.”
Kate Tuttle - Boston Globe
“Ackerman is a gorgeous writer and perceptive observer. Here she writes with great empathy about the human plight.”
Jon Christensen - San Francisco Chronicle
“A humdinger of a book… Ackerman is optimistic, even exhilarated, and frequently giddy about the future of humanity.”
Tim Flannery - Harper's Magazine
“Exquisite and startling.”

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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Barnes & Noble
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784 KB

Meet the Author

Diane Ackerman has been the finalist for the
Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction in addition to many other awards and recognitions for her work, which include the best-selling The Zookeeper’s Wife and A Natural History of the Senses. She lives with her husband Paul West in Ithaca, New York.

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The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
From fertilizers changing the weather to the extinction of snails, Diane Ackerman explores the impacts human civilization has had on Earth and on life as we know it. The thing I enjoyed most about this book was how involved Ackerman was in her topics. If there was something that she wanted to write about, Ackerman would go out and search for the best information. She would talk with professionals and spend time getting involved herself. Because of this, the book itself felt like a journey with Ackerman to seek out knowledge of humanity’s impact. Ackerman didn’t just stop at what humans have done, though. She explored the things that humans are doing and will do in the future. Many of these were fascinating technologies and ideas I had never heard of before like 3D printing organs and growing all of an area’s necessary food in a single vertical garden. While it’s clear that human development has negatively impacted many other species over time, these new technologies shed some optimism on the situation, showing that technologies like vertical farming could benefit all species and not just humans. While each chapter seemed to tell a story, I only wish that Ackerman could have made better connections between some chapters. She often stopped mentioning a chapter or idea after it had been discussed, dropping it as if it stood alone. I feel that Ackerman could have made the book more interesting by exploring how these ideas might relate to one another or even work together. For example, she could have drawn more connections between the Blue Revolution (mariculture’s future in vertical farms) and the idea that human concentrations are now becoming more concentrated. After all, vertical farms could work well with urban populations since they produce a good amount of food while taking up little land. Despite this, there is a certain message in the diversity and disconnect between the book’s chapters. If anything, this shows that there is no single way that humans have impacted or will continue to impact the planet. Likewise, there is no single way that Earth will respond.