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How to Make a Human Being: A Body of Evidence Hardcover – 27 Mar 2014


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate (27 Mar. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007447795
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007447794
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 3.4 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 358,992 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

‘A sort of commonplace book full of paradox and conflicting ideas, shocking facts and redemptive anecdotes, turbulent with two or three millennia of human thought … The source material is wonderfully diverse … [‘How To Make A Human Being’] has great fun bringing the work of canonical writers together with a loose philosophical examination of some of the big existential questions … Very enjoyable.’ Gavin Francis, Guardian

‘Well-travelled imaginations will enjoy a jaunt with fiery polymath Christopher Potter; “How to Make a Human Being” is a quirky investigation into our deepest nature, and calls on evidence from PG Wodehouse and Marcel Proust, Christopher Robin and Francis Crick, the Book of Revelation and the Worm Breeder's Gazette.’ Hilary Mantel, Guardian

‘Potter now focuses inward, turning from physics to neuroscience, biology and philosophy. He asks not “where are we?”, but “who are we?” — and finds that science does not have half the answers it thinks. Still, science’s best efforts, as gathered here, feel pretty rich and wonderful … A clever, subtle, enjoyable book. If we are a parliament of selves, this book is a parliament of explanations — and a deeply English one, at that, full of idiosyncrasy and resistance to easy answers.’ James McConnachie, Sunday Times

‘A quirky and effective way of managing material that has engaged and baffled the greatest minds since antiquity’ New Statesman

‘Potter illuminates the human in all its manifestations from single cell to creator of culture … The scattershot narrative somehow coalesces into a brilliant whole and compelling case for anti-reductionism’ Nature Magazine

Praise for ‘You Are Here’:

‘One of the most entertaining and thoughtful pop-science books to be published for years’ Sunday Times

‘A wonderful, miraculous book …The whole universe bottled for your delight’ Stephen Fry

‘One of the best popular science books I have ever read’ Guardian

About the Author

Christopher Potter spent almost a quarter of a century in publishing, over 17 of those years at the independent publishing house Fourth Estate, where he became publisher and managing director. His first book was the much-praised ‘You Are Here, A Portable History of the Universe’. ‘How To Make a Human Being’ is his second.


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
When, four hundred years ago, Francis Bacon made the case for experiment and measurement, thus inaugurating modern scientific method, his poet friend George Herbert asked: how do you measure love? This brilliant new book takes that dialogue further and wider perhaps than ever before, bringing together the wisdoms of scientists, philosophers, religions and artists to illuminating what our universe might be, and what it might mean to be human in it.
Christopher Potter’s deep and wide-ranging empathy for all these perspectives ensures that the experience of reading it is constantly to be surprised, moved, or delighted into new perceptions, and no side is stereotyped or reduced. While describing with wonder the recent astonishing progress in physics, biochemistry and neuroscience, he deploys the voices of eminent scientists to reveal how well they understand the limitations of their field of enquiry (things measurable “by a clock and a ruler”). New scientific advances can typically flow not from dry observation but acts of imagination as inspired as art. Like great artists, they destroy or constrict what were previously certainties. What our universe is, and what it means to be human, are always unravelling. We are an unstable field, and in this a microcosm of our cosmic surroundings, but one capable, at our best, of astonishing and unmeasurable perception, each holding, as Potter reveals, in a human brain, the most complex thing so far discovered in creation.
Meaning may belong more in metaphor, where poets and religious thinkers have often dwelt, questioning those who, from any side of the argument, have propounded narrow certainties.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Prudence Patts on 29 Mar. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This attractively produced book is hard to categorise as it blends philosophy and literature with evolutionary theory, quantum physics and biology, in a witty speculation by a writer as much at ease with the world of science as he is with the arts. Divided into sections, each laced with quotes and epigrams from a wide variety of sources, makes for a stimulating read which one can take up and put down without losing any threads. Potter's unusual outlook on the meaning of life is conveyed with grace and flair.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Carrington on 1 April 2014
Format: Hardcover
I think this is a wonderful book. It really does go into all those questions about life and existence, but in a way that so unernest, and draws on the wisdom of so many people, and in such a digestible way, that I wonder it has not been done before. I think the format is perfect, with subjects, quotations and the author's observations (though not judgements) blending into a thought provoking, and often very funny, journey through..... well, everything really. I had always fancied myself as a bit of a philosophy/theology student, but this book made me realise I had not really thought about much about anything.

It is perfect for anyone who does not want to plough through pages of dense text, but who likes to be challenged, amused, informed, entertained, and possibly shown the Way - without having to work hard at it. It can be read on levels to suit anybody - and that is quite an achievement.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By The Sethmas of Pybama on 15 April 2014
Format: Hardcover
A delightful and engaging book. I find it less eccentric than wry, which, to me at least, seems a welcome sign of respect for the intelligence of the reader. (I'm afraid I tend to fall for that sort of thing, particularly in these days of hyper-excited, flashy science-related media.) I find it unusually perceptive and thought-provoking, pursuing ideas traditional and less so with equal articulation and a fair amount of charm...I'm at a bit of a loss as to how exactly he maintains such a clear center in a book with such a range of topics.

I'm in full agreement with previous reviewers on two points. One, I can also imagine this staying on my Kindle somewhat permanently, to be taken out at any moment of pause in one's day -- which is in fact what I've done with it since finishing it. Though I find its physical version much more pleasing for this purpose. Like a tiny handful of rare works which have gone before it, it doesn't seem "done" when one's finished reading it, I keep wanting to go back, bounce around to different spots and explore. It's almost a generative work that way.

Two, it feels very much to me like a fresh approach to science writing in general; being written from a perspective that, at least to my mind, abandons the (imagined) security of setting forth an explication of Things As They Are (with its attendant pomposities large and small) and somehow manages to place a realistically human point of view, perhaps it's more accurate to say *manner* of perceiving, at the center of these various arrays of facts -- the wildly imperfect, frequently imaginary, occasionally brilliant, bias-driven set of contradictions which is our actual human perspective, as one experiences it.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By MJM on 3 April 2014
Format: Hardcover
I read this in a night, and it was one of the most exhilarating reading experiences I've had. Though it's non-fiction, it reminds me of some of my favourite novels - 'The Waves', 'War and Peace' - in breadth and ambition. Potter is uniquely positioned to study life simultaneously from materialist and aesthetic perspectives - what comes through, progressively, is his rapt fascination with the nothing-simpler and nothing-more-mysterious fact of existence. It's unlikely that you'll read a book from which you will learn quite so much. I found myself scrawling note after note with the enthusiasm of a teenager. The bibliography alone is a treasure (surely the only book to feature both Lyn Margulis and John Cheever!). The format is reminiscent of David Shields's 'Realty Hunger', though this is much further reaching. It might also be compared to John Gray, whose own work is similarly a blend of essay, autobiography, science, philosophy and tribute to loved writers, though Potter's is a much more affable, positive, and lyrical voice, and he's much more more comfortable on the hard science. It's an incredibly generous book - an example in how to live without illusion and with gratitude and wonder. I really believe this is a necessary and timely addition to the contemporary debate on post-Darwinian 'meaning'; as well as being essential and challenging reading for anyone interested in Dennett, Dawkins, etc, it also starkly illuminates quantum physics, evolutionary biology and other disciplines for those who may not be so familiar with them. Potter is unique: he is neither trying to denigrate belief nor hide from the physical realities of transient matter; neither reducing the felt expansiveness of consciousness nor ignoring the humbling and spectacular advances of neuroscience and molecular biology.Read more ›
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