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The Immortalization Commission: Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death [Paperback]

John Gray
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

10 April 2012


An obsession with the nature of death lies at the heart of the human experience. For most of our history religion provided a clear explanation for life and the afterlife. But in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries this framework came under relentless pressure as new ideas - from psychiatry to evolution to Communism - seemed to suggest that our fate was now in our own hands. We would ourselves become God.

The Immortalization Commission raises a host of fascinating questions about what it means to be human. The great and terrible implication of Darwin's ideas was that natural selection made humans into animals like any other, doomed one day to disappear from the face of an uncaring Earth. The refusal to follow this logic and to insist instead on our immortality resulted in a series of experiments that carry on to the present day, some of which ravaged whole countries and some of which generated more private forms of pain. The implications of Gray's book will haunt the reader for the rest of their lives - and perhaps beyond.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux (10 April 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780374533236
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374533236
  • ASIN: 0374533237
  • Product Dimensions: 19 x 12 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,763,136 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


The most prescient of British public intellectuals (Financial Times )

Gray has consistently anticipated the shape of things to come ... he teaches us that true humanism is to be found in uncertainty and doubt (Will Self )

The closest thing we have to a window-smashing French intellectual (Andrew Marr )

A visionary ... one of the most reliably provocative and heterodox voices in British intellectual life today (New Statesman )

Gray is a philosophical maverick, a pricker of bubbles, a deflater of balloons, a true iconoclast for whom our chief competing accounts of existence - the religious and the humanist - are both fatally flawed (Globe and Mail )

deeply thoughtful, brilliantly narrated (Raymond Tallis Literary Review ) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

John Gray is most recently the acclaimed author of Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals, Al Qaeda and What It Means to be Modern, Heresies: Against Progress and Other Illusions and False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism. Having been Professor of Politics at Oxford, Visiting Professor at Harvard and Yale and Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics, he now writes full time.His books and articles have been translated into over thirty languages.His selected writings, Gray's Anatomy, were published by Penguin in 2009. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars There must be some kind of way out of here... 28 Jan 2011
By Diziet TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a fascinating extended essay on the nature of religion, science and death.

Gray takes as his starting point the publication of Darwin's 'The Origin of Species'. It is perhaps difficult now, even with the continuing furore in some quarters over the theory of evolution, to really comprehend the enormous impact that this had on Victorian society. Darwin situated human beings firmly in the animal kingdom. And animals die. They do not have immortal souls. As Gray says in the Foreword:

'Science had disclosed a world in which humans were no different from other animals in facing final oblivion when they died and eventual extinction as a species. That was the message of Darwinism, not fully accepted even by Darwin himself. For nearly everyone it was an intolerable vision, and since most had given up religion they turned to science for escape from the world that science had revealed.' (P 1)

Gray follows the results of this huge and probably final displacement of humanity from the centre of creation in two closely linked but radically different situations.

The first section, entitled 'Cross Correspondences', looks at how many in the English upper and upper-middle classes resorted to trying to develop psychic research in order to find a way of subverting or avoiding the conclusions forced on them by evolution theory.

In the second section, 'The God Builders', he looks at the more material (and murderous) attempts at transcending base humanity utilised in Lenin's and Stalin's Russia. He also draws fascinating links between these two apparently disparate approaches.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
By Lady Fancifull TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The Immortalisation Commission is a fascinating and well written account of attempts made, either through using scientific investigation, or through scientific means, to either prove the existence of `the immortal soul' or to cheat bodily death or the death of consciousness.

For a splendid and detailed account of Gray's subject matter in this book, read the excellent review by the first reviewer, Diziet, which really tells a prospective buyer anything they may want to know. I'm only writing MY review because such an excellent book deserves more than one 5 star review.

I knew a fair amount about the spiritualist movement, (the subject of the first section) and the attempts made to prove that individual consciousness survived via the use of cross correspondence and mediums - the attempt to set up a scientific method to prove survival. Despite their sometimes messy and tangled personal/sexual lives, Myers, Sedgewick et al seem models of perhaps nave idealism, anxious to prove the survival of personal consciousness, because of course it is the loss of those we love which is perhaps harder to live with than the idea which we can barely imagine, of our own demise - our consciousness cannot really use itself to abstract itself from itself, but the loss of other is experienced by all, and explains the rise of the search of proof of survival through spiritualism, particularly after the great War.

I was most interested in what was unknown to me - that scientific endeavour was used in Soviet Russia because it accorded with a belief that the dead could be raised by scientific means - particularly of course the `good and great' (sic) dead.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
John Gray's "The Immortalization Commission: The Strange Quest to Cheat Death" is a book I really like. First it's full of anecdotal references and this makes it very easy to read. Despite being clearly an essay, the narrative is well build and I enjoyed it.

It's full of reference to lots of (dead) people with unpronounceable names (mainly Russians) who's biographies are strange and stranger. This book is also great because it puts evidences beforehand and then draws conclusions which you do not generally find in history books. Gray digs deep into the roots of "evil", only to find out its actually humankind natural state. We're all part of Evolution, and it's not gonna be a "fun" experience. Unlike some Nat.Geo. or BBC documentaries sometimes makes us think there is no design, just selfish reproduction. And it's gonna be bloody and painful and it's no surprise that the "quest to cheat death" is the main theme of any culture and civilisation since Man became sentient and capable of expressing it to its kins. In the past it was mainly Religion, but since the publication of Darwin's work, Science has become a very promising tool to cheat death. A tool, Science, which has been elevated to a new kind of Religion where people are spendable, like rats in a Lab. They are just raw material that can be thrown away with no major consequences if not the construction of a new kind of Super Humans.
The final pages of the second part of the book for example, the "God Builder" part, is particularly enlightening of what really happened, not only in Bolshevik's Russia under the Terror state of Lenin first and Stalin later. But most important how this "demographic suicide pond" that was the USSR was perfectly interconnected to Hitler's Germany and concealed in plain sight to Western "observers".
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