The Immortalization Commission
Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death
By John Gray
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Hardcover, 9780374175061, 288pp.)
Publication Date: March 29, 2011
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A Globe and Mail Best Books of the Year 2011 Title
At the heart of human experience lies an obsession with the nature of death. Religion, for most of history, has provided an explanation for human life and a vision of what comes after it. But in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such beliefs 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: humans could cease to be animals, defeat death, and become immortal.
In The Immortalization Commission, the acclaimed political philosopher and critic John Gray takes a brilliant and frightening look at humankind’s dangerous striving toward a scientific version of immortality. Probing the parallel faiths of Bolshevik “God-builders,” who sought to reshape the planet and psychical researchers, who believed they had evidence of a nonreligious form of life after death, Gray raises fascinating questions about how such beliefs threaten the very nature of what it means to be human. He looks to philosophers, journalists, politicians, charlatans, and mass murderers who all felt driven by a specifically scientific and modern worldview and whose revolt against death resulted in a series of experiments that ravaged whole countries.
An urgent examination of Darwin’s post-religious legacy, The Immortalization Commission is an important work from “one of Britain’s leading public intellectuals” (The Wall Street Journal).
John Gray is the author of many critically acclaimed books, including Black Mass, Straw Dogs, and Al Qaeda and What It Means to Be Modern. A regular contributor to The New York Review of Books, he is Emeritus Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics.