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How to Make a Human Being: A Body of Evidence Hardcover – 27 Mar 2014
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‘A clever, subtle, enjoyable book — and a deeply English one, full of idiosyncrasy and resistance to easy answers’ Sunday Times
‘Sparky and fun… Auperb. Potter investigates what it is to be human, and his method is to investigate the history of human thought’ Evening Standard
‘Beautiful and profound … Not only unlike any work of literature I’ve read, it comes closer than any new work I’ve read to doing full justice to the impossible complexity of living a life … It concerns matters of mortality, and of grocery shopping. It is – I’ll just say it – a significant book’ Michael Cunningham, author of ‘The Hours’
‘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 … Very enjoyable’ 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’ Hilary Mantel, Guardian
‘Rich and wonderful … A clever, subtle, enjoyable book. If we are a parliament of selves, this book is a parliament of explanations’ Sunday Times
‘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
‘Potter always has something interesting to say, even if you disagree … this is a wonderful and unique book.’ Lisa Randall, Professor of Physics at Harvard University
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.
Top customer reviews
On page 13 Francis Crick is quoted as saying “If you ask in how many cases in the past has a philosopher successfully solved a problem, as far as we can say there are no cases”. This opening salvo seems to so set the intention of the book to adhere to materialism. But Christopher Potter does a clever thing: the book has an underlying narrative which takes a wide arc out from physics, chemistry, through biology and then into personal reflection. The great achievement of this book is that the reader is skilfully taken along this safari too.
The book is presented in individual, generally short, conceptual units under specific themes. These are presented with paragraph numbers like a court judgment. Interspersed are a large number of revenant quotes from scientists, leaders, journalists and authors. These span most of civilisation, cultures and creeds and add a second line of thought to Potter’s text.
In the latter stages of the book they do become a bit wearing especially in the third section ‘On Being Human’. But that may be a reflection on my interest in facts over flights of almost self indulgent prose by Jean Sibelius, Thomas Browne and Ivan Goncharov.
This is a great book – actually think the author was aiming for a magnum opus but over-quoting probably precludes that title. There were many passages which made me immediately stop reading and contemplate the thought I had just read.