3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Impressive without leaving a lasting impression,
This review is from: Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How it Drives Civilisation (Hardcover)
Stephen Cave argues that civilization has been driven by our attempts to resolve the Mortality Paradox -- the paradox being that we can objectively work out that we will die, yet we cannot subjectively imagine not existing. He groups the approaches to attaining immortality into four "immortality narratives", namely, Staying Alive, Resurrection, Soul, and Legacy. He surveys the history of the ideas behind each approach and illustrates them with stories of people who took these approaches -- from Gilgamesh through Dante and others to Linus Pauling -- displaying an impressive knowledge of history along the way. At the end, he advises on how to live with the knowledge of the conclusion.
If you are looking for information on the development of specific aspects of civilization, carry on looking. Here, the drive to civilization is described only in general terms -- more like a route marked on a road map with a highlighter pen than a street view. But if you are looking for a well-argued and intellectually stimulating analysis of immortality, look here. Cave argues his case well (as a good philosopher should, argument being the philosopher's only tool). Disregarding the Bee Gees earworm I experienced while reading the Staying Alive part, I enjoyed this book. I found it fascinating to learn what others believe and how they came to hold their beliefs.
Yet it didn't leave a lasting impression on me, and I probably won't want to re-read it. (I'm writing this review a couple of months after reading the book, and I had to look at it again to remind myself why I was impressed at the time.) Furthermore, I'm not sure who else will read this book because it's not clear who it's aimed at. It could be useful for anyone with a well-developed fear of death, but if such a person should stumble while keeping busy to avoid thinking about their mortality, it's unlikely that what they'll stumble upon will be this book. That leaves people who like a good non-fiction book on any subject, but they probably also won't find it because the cover of the print version contains no genre classification and the preface gives no clue as to the intended audience. So I fear that it might sink into obscurity, which would be a shame in one way but splendidly ironic in another way because, as Napoleon said, "Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever."
Well, I must be going now. Life's too short to be sitting down writing reviews.