2018 Nautilus Award, Silver Medal (Ecology and Environment)
It’s almost official. The geologists are approaching consensus. The Holocene is behind us. An epoch in Earth’s history is over. Contemplating where the planet is heading next is where things start to get interesting.
Many are calling the epoch ahead the “Anthropocene” or “Age of Humans.” It is clear that our species will be intimately involved in creating this future world. But what will define this new age and in what sense will it be a “human” one?
The challenges we face are much more significant than the familiar litany of impacts such as climate change, species extinction, and toxic pollution. Earth is entering a period in which some of its most fundamental processes are being co-opted and redesigned. Synthetic biologists, climate engineers, and nanotechnologists are reaching deeply enough into the workings of nature to alter the very metabolism of the planet. In so doing, they start humanity down the path towards an entirely new, synthetic world.
The Synthetic Age: Outdesigning Evolution, Resurrecting Species, and Reengineering Our World provides an overview of the most significant transformations ahead. It shows how our species is taking steps towards constructing a synthetic version of nature, all the way from the atom to the atmosphere. The book celebrates some of the technologies involved, but also posts a sober warning about how dangerous it would be to sleep through these world-changing events. Should engineers, entrepreneurs, and the marketplace be allowed to replace the natural world with an entirely new synthetic age?
This book explains what is going on. It explores the promises….but also reveals the perils.
REVIEWS AND ENDORSEMENTS
“[An] essential new book…”
Laura Cole, Geographical
“….I suspect that this may turn out to be one of the most significant contributions yet to understanding and responding to the challenges of the Anthropocene….”
Frank Oldfield, Anthropocene Review
In the nineteenth century when rapid techno-scientific developments were driving the industrial revolution, there was plenty of learned commentary on the implications of the astonishing transformation, including on what it might mean to be human. That was not a time known for inclusive democratic control over the course and extent of the revolution. Hopefully, it will be better this time. If it isn’t that will be a sign that not enough people have read this important and accessible book. Highly recommended.
Simon Hailwood, Environmental Values
Whether you are a techno-optimist or deeply skeptical of technological fixes to environmental problems, Preston’s overview of emerging technologies and call for a broad-based, truly democratic decision-making process is sure to resonate. In the Anthropocene, humans have a responsibility to care for our planet with collective, conscious intention. Preston makes clear the stakes involved and the decisions that lie ahead. We all must ask ourselves where our own values lie.
Emma Marris, author of Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World
The Synthetic Age is a powerful exposé of our ability to play nature and outperform evolution. This well-written and accessible book reminds us that humanity must accompany its ever-expanding technical prowess with a greater sense of responsibility of planetary proportions.
Calestous Juma; author of Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies
…..The Synthetic Age succeeds quite brilliantly in its goals. In providing clear, engaging explanations, often with an effective use of humor, Preston offers non-specialist readers a useful understanding of technological advances that are often hidden behind paywalls or impenetrable thickets of jargon.
Katja Jylkka, Minding Nature
Preston’s thorough and engaging exploration of the many ways that our species has learned to control the natural world, from manipulating molecules to reorganizing ecosystems to controlling the climate, provides a compelling argument in favor of renaming the present epoch the Synthetic Age. The book is a fascinating combination of history, science, and ethics that asks us to consider what we value most in nature and in our own humanity.
Beth Shapiro, Professor, Physical and Biological Sciences, University of California, Santa Cruz; author of How to Clone a Mammoth
Preston thoroughly examines the promises and the perils of the forthcoming Synthetic Age. But I fear—more than he does—the prospect of living an artificial life on a denatured planet. I concede that we face a Semi-Anthropocene, a Symbiotic Age, hoping to keep the natural basics on a wonderland Earth.
Holmes Rolston, III, University Distinguished Professor and Professor of Philosophy (Emeritus), Colorado State University; author of Genes, Genesis, and God
Christopher Preston is a philosopher who writes for you and me about the most important development in human history—the remaking of the planet from top to bottom, or rather from bottom to top. In the midst of distressing upheavals, he counsels and inspires calm engagement in the decisions that are upon us.
Albert Borgmann, Regents Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, University of Montana; author of Real American Ethics and Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life
Examining Ethics podcast (January 30th, 2019)
The Write Question (MTPR) radio interview (June 6th, 2018)
BBC Science Focus opinion piece (May 30th, 2018)
Last Word on Nothing interview (May 28th, 2018)
World Economic Forum Agenda opinion piece (May 17th, 2018)
Philosopher for a Synthetic Age, A New Angle podcast (April 24th, 2018)
The Ecologist interview (April 16th, 2018)
The Missoulian newspaper story (April 6th, 2018)
[Available now in hardcover, paperback, audiobook, and German translation. Translations into Japanese and Chinese will be available shortly.]