Immortality by Stephen Cave

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When death harkens, Cave provides a luminous, mindful taste of the alternatives.


A fascinating work of popular philosophy and history that both enlightens and entertains, Stephen Cave’s Immortality investigates whether it just might be possible to live forever and whether we should want to.  But it also makes a powerful argument, which is that it’s our very preoccupation with defying mortality that drives civilization.
Central to this book is the metaphor of a mountaintop where one can find the Immortals.  Since the dawn of humanity, everyone – whether they know it or not – has been trying to climb that mountain.  But there are only four paths up its treacherous slope, and there have only ever been four paths.  Throughout history, people have wagered everything on their choice of the correct path, and fought wars against those who’ve chosen differently.
While Immortality takes the reader on an eye-opening journey from the beginnings of civilization to the present day, the structure is not chronological.  Rather it is path driven.  As each path is revealed to us, an historical figure serves as our guide. 
In drawing back the curtain on what compels humans to “keep on keeping on,” Cave engages the reader in a number of mind-bending thought experiments.  He teases out the implications of each immortality gambit, asking, for example, how long a person would live if they did manage to acquire a perfectly disease-free body.  Or what would happen if a super-being tried to round up the atomic constituents of all who’ve died in order to resurrect them.  Or what our loved ones would really be doing in heaven if it does exist.  Or what part of us actually lives in a work of art, and how long that work of art can survive. 
Toward the the book’s end, we’re confronted with a series of brain-rattling questions: What would happen if tomorrow humanity discovered that there is no life but this one?  Would people continue to care about their favorite sports team, please their boss, vie for the title of Year’s Best Salesman? Would three-hundred-year projects still get started?  If the four paths up the Mount of the Immortals lead nowhere -- if there is no getting up to the summit -- is there still reason to live?  And can civilization survive?
Immortality is a deeply satisfying book, as optimistic about the human condition as it is insightful about the true arc of history.

From the Hardcover edition.

About Stephen Cave

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Stephen Cave holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Cambridge University and, before turning to full-time writing, worked as a diplomat. He writes regularly for the Financial Times and also contributes to the New York Times.
Published April 3, 2012 by Crown. 338 pages
Genres: History, Religion & Spirituality, Law & Philosophy, Education & Reference. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Immortality
All: 3 | Positive: 2 | Negative: 1


Mar 15 2012

When death harkens, Cave provides a luminous, mindful taste of the alternatives.

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Reviewed by Louis Gulino

The way he seamlessly blends theory, research and narrative into a coherent and accessible whole testifies to the breadth of his talents as a writer.

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New Scientist

Below average
Reviewed by S. Olshansky on Apr 13 2012

He does make errors here and there, misstating the likely demographic consequences of immortality, for example, or omitting due attribution for some ideas. . .

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