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Unnatural: The Heretical Idea of Making People [Hardcover]

Philip Ball
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

3 Feb 2011

* Can we make a human being?

* That question has been asked for many centuries, and has produced recipes ranging from the homunculus of the medieval alchemists and the clay golem of Jewish legend to Frankenstein's monster and the mass-produced test-tube babies in Brave New World.

* All of these efforts to create artificial people are more or less fanciful, but they have taken deep root in Western culture. They all express fears about the allegedly treacherous, Faustian nature of technology, and they all question whether any artificially created person can be truly human. Legends of people-making are tainted by suspicions of impiety and hubris, and they are regarded as the ultimate 'unnatural' act - a moral judgement that has its origins in religious thought.

* In this fascinating and highly topical study, Philip Ball delves beneath the surface of the cultural history of 'anthropoeia' - the creation of artificial people - to explore what it tells us about our views on life, humanity, creativity and technology, and the soul. From the legendary inventor Daedalus to Goethe's tragic Faust, from the automata-making magicians of E.T.A Hoffmann to Mary Shelley's Victor Frankenstein - the old tales and myths are alive and well, subtly manipulating the current debates about assisted conception, embryo research and human cloning, which have at last made the fantasy of 'making people' into some kind of reality.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Bodley Head (3 Feb 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847921523
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847921529
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.5 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 59,192 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Philip Ball is a freelance science writer. He worked at Nature for over 20 years, first as an editor for physical sciences (for which his brief extended from biochemistry to quantum physics and materials science) and then as a Consultant Editor. His writings on science for the popular press have covered topical issues ranging from cosmology to the future of molecular biology.

Product Description


"A brave, sane and intellectually nimble account of a topic which only gets more ambiguous with each scientific advance. Unnatural is fascinating and engaging, and a polemic only for cool heads and open hearts when dealing with issues of such serious and profound complexity" (Stuart Kelly Scotland on Sunday)

"This is a fascinating book" (Jonathan Rée Evening Standard)

"Unnatural is a beautifully-written, deeply-intelligent book that will force every reader to rethink at least some of their preconceptions" (Jim Endersby Sunday Telegraph)

"Ball's thoughtful book is a reminder that as we try and deal with how to enable and assist people into being, we need to understand and then conquer our fears surrounding the very idea of making people" (Manjit Kumar Guardian)

"Meticulous, witty and sometimes provocative" (Patrick Skene Catling Sunday Times)

Book Description

A fascinating exploration of the cultural history of 'anthropoesis' - the creation of artificial people - what it tells us about our views on life, humanity, creativity and technology, and the soul.

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Science Book of 2011(?) 10 July 2011
"Unnatural" is a stunningly intelligent book. Philip Ball is masterful in his exploration on society's (pre)conceptions of IVF and associated reproductive technology. The tabloid (and worryingly, occasionally broadsheet) announcement of new advances in reproductive technology as either "Brave New Baby" or "Franken(insert pun here)" is put under the microscope by highlighting that these prejudices are built essentially from cultural relics. From Prometheus and Daedalus, to Faust and Frankenstein's Monster, Ball deftly distils the underlying unease which accompanies these tales, and how they shape the narrative into which new discoveries are shoehorned.

Later focusing on IVF whilst looking forward to the possibility to cloning, Ball manages to put the rhetoric to one side and look objectivity at the merits and fears associated with these developing technologies. Catholic doctrine is also examined here - although without the arrogance or bile associated with other scientific writers. As a PhD student of cell biology and biochemistry, I can also applaud Ball's clear and precise explanations regarding the scientific aspects of IVF and cloning.

A truly necessary book - I'd advise anyone to read it before they consider opening their mouth and airing an opinion on reproductive technology.
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