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Our Final Hour [Hardcover]

Martin Rees
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 19 2003
A scientist known for unraveling the complexities of the universe over millions of years, Sir Martin Rees now warns that humankind is potentially the maker of its own demise--and that of the cosmos. Though the twenty-first century could be the critical era in which life on Earth spreads beyond our solar system, it is just as likely that we have endangered the future of the entire universe. With clarity and precision, Rees maps out the ways technology could destroy our species and thereby foreclose the potential of a living universe whose evolution has just begun.Rees boldly forecasts the startling risks that stem from our accelerating rate of technological advances. We could be wiped out by lethal "engineered" airborne viruses, or by rogue nano-machines that replicate catastrophically. Experiments that crash together atomic nuclei could start a chain reaction that erodes all atoms of Earth, or could even tear the fabric of space itself. Through malign intent or by mistake, a single event could trigger global disaster. Though we can never completely safeguard our future, increased regulation and inspection can help us to prevent catastrophe. Rees's vision of the infinite future that we have put at risk--a cosmos more vast and diverse than any of us has ever imagined--is both a work of stunning scientific originality and a humanistic clarion call on behalf of the future of life.

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From Amazon

Just when you've stopped worrying and learned to love the bomb, along comes Sir Martin Rees, Britain's Astronomer Royal, with teeming armies of deadly viruses, nanobots, and armed fanatics. Beyond the hazards most of us know about--smallpox, terrorists, global warming--Rees introduces the new threats of the 21st century and the unholy political and scientific alliances that have made them possible. Our Final Hour spells out doomsday scenarios for cosmic collisions, high-energy experiments gone wrong, and self-replicating machines that steadily devour the biosphere. If we can avoid driving ourselves to extinction, he writes, a glorious future awaits; if not, our devices may very well destroy the universe.

What happens here on Earth, in this century, could conceivably make the difference between a near eternity filled with ever more complex and subtle forms of life and one filled with nothing but base matter.

For many technological debacles, Rees places much of the blame squarely on the shoulders of the scientists who participate in perfecting environmental destruction, biological menaces, and ever-more powerful weapons. So is there any hope for humanity? Rees is vaguely optimistic on this point, offering solutions that would require a level of worldwide cooperation humans have yet to exhibit. If the daily news isn't enough to make you want to crawl under a rock, this book will do the trick. --Therese Littleton

From Publishers Weekly

Nano-machines stand poised to revolutionize technology and medicine, but what happens if these minuscule beasties break their leash and run amok? Rees, the U.K.'s Astronomer Royal and prolific author (Just Six Numbers; Our Cosmic Habitat), warns that the 21st century may well witness the extinction of mankind, a doomsday more likely to be caused by human error than by a natural catastrophe. Bioterrorists are the most widely publicized threat at the moment, but well-intentioned scientists, Rees says, are capable of accidentally wiping out mankind via genetically engineered superpathogens that create unprecedented pandemics, or even through something as weird as high-energy particle experiments that backfire and cause the universe to implode. Rees poses some hard questions about scientists' responsibility to forsake research that might lead to a malevolent genie being let out of its bottle and even to restrict the sharing of scientific information to prevent it from getting into the wrong hands. Ultimately, though, Rees sounds more alarmist than precautionary. Some may find him overly optimistic on what science will be capable of doing in the next quarter century. Rees makes some provocative points, but the book falls short of what readers expect from a scientist of his stature.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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First Sentence
THE TWENTIETH CENTURY BROUGHT US THE BOMB, and the nuclear threat will never leave us; the short-term threat from terrorism is high on the public and political agenda; inequalities in wealth and welfare get ever wider. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A critical next fraction of a second July 15 2004
Format:Hardcover
If we compress our solar system's entire lifecycle in a single year, the 20th century would present only a third of a second. In Martin Rees' more or less pessimistic outlook the next fraction of a second is crucial for the future of mankind.
With worst case scenarios he warns for threats without enemies (cosmological catastrophes) as well as for man-made threats (environmental degradation, nuclear weapons, bio-terror, robotics or nanotechnology).
He concedes that the technological future in our century is brilliant, where some mind-boggling artefacts like implants of computers in the human brain or the achievement of immortality should not be plainly dismissed. But there are darker sides at our scientific progress, making Huxley's 'Brave New World' a distinct possibility via designer drugs and genetic interventions.
This book deals also with demography, cosmological travel and space emigration, the future growth of the human (or new) twig(s) and (for the author a key challenge) the search for alien life.
Martin Rees did a tour-de-force by selecting and combining concisely vastly different fields in a small and easy understandable book.
With excellent notes, this work, like all his other books, is a must read for all those interested in the fate of mankind.
Carl Djerassi's autobiography 'The Pill, Pygmy Chimps and Degas' gives a lively picture of the political infightings in the organization of the here mentioned Pugwash conferences.
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Format:Hardcover
"The theme of this book," Martin Rees writes, "is that humanity is more at risk than at any earlier phase in its history." Natural risks such as colliding with an asteroid have not changed; they are the baseline. What is new is the power that science has given small numbers of people - possibly as few as one - to endanger the entire species. Our destiny depends increasingly on choices that we make ourselves. These are important themes that should have been developed in more detail. Unfortunately, some of this relatively short book is taken up with futurist padding separated from the main point.
Rees begins with familiar threats from nuclear and biological weapons, noting Fred Ikle's view that only an oppressive police state could assure total government control over novel tools of mass destruction. Rees then turns to the implications of genetic engineering, including the creation of new forms of life that could feed off other materials in our environment. Thanks to genetic engineering, the nature of humans could begin to change within this century; human character and physique will soon be malleable. The potential threats may remind some readers of Frank Herbert's novel The White Plague, in which a lone scientist creates a spectacular method of revenge.
Rees is most effective when he describes the potential implications of scientific experiments, particularly in particle physics. He notes that some experiments are designed to generate conditions more extreme than ever occur naturally. Here readers will learn about the possible human creation of black holes and strangelets. Errors and unpredictable outcomes are a growing cause for worry; calculations of risk are based on probability rather than certainty.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat disappointing Sept. 18 2003
Format:Hardcover
I am a doom and gloom type person, so I bought this book with some eagerness. However, as pointed out in some of the other reviews, the book is disappointingly superficial in its coverage of issues and lacking in scholarship. Take, for example, the section on the dangers of nanotechnology. Michael Crichton's "Prey" does an infinitely better job of detailing what nanotechnology is all about and how it might go wrong. Similarly, if you're interested in viruses running amok, buy Preston's "Hot Zone" and "Demon in the Freezer" instead as a fascinating and gripping introduction and then tackle Laurie Garrett's "The Coming Plague" for a truly comprehensive treatment of the subject. As another example, Bill Bryson's recent book does a better job of describing threats due to possible geological disasters such as volcanoes...you get the picture. I found myself wishing at every chapter that the author had given more detail and provided more background on the threats he desribes. My bottom line? If you are also a doom and gloom person, save your money and wait for the paperback; there's enough in here to keep you mildly entertained, even if none of it is particularly new. If you're not into contemplating the destruction of the earth, skip this book entirely.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Informative But Not Persuasive July 23 2003
Format:Hardcover
A good book, but not persuasive. Can we do great harm to each other with less-than-total nuclear war, certainly. But we would continue as a species. And our predecessors survived the concurrent existence of smallpox, cholera, yellow fever, tuberculosis, polio, the plague, and many other infectious agents. And as to nanotechnology, the world is a tough place at the atomic level, so delicate processes would not survive, and robust devices will probably not have the flexibility needed for an Assembler. Nanotech, if we ever master it, will be a next century or beyond technology. Our freedoms may be the unavoidable victim as we seek to enhance security in a time of individual access to dangerous technologies. This book is a great overview of impending, possible disasters, but the major premise of the book, namely that there is a great probability of our species causing our own extinction within this century is not sufficiently supported. It does end with an interesting call for us to seek human colonies "off world", though I don't think we understand the complexity of the support structure needed to have a self-sustaining colony on Mars (i.e. what happens when an essential integrated circuit manufactured in an industruial complex finally breaks).
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Just A Catalog of News Events
Most of the book is simply a short summary of news events of the past few years, with a few 'shock and awe' highly unlikely events thrown in to amaze the reader. Read more
Published on Nov. 5 2003 by Gary Upshaw
2.0 out of 5 stars interesting but--
Certainly interesting although very short and he disappears into
the stars toward the end and totally loses his focus toward the end.
Published on Aug. 31 2003 by peter oakley
4.0 out of 5 stars Well reasoned argument how science might destroy the world
It's strange how many "the world is going to end" books cross my desk. Our Final Hour: A Scientist's Warning: How Terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind's... Read more
Published on July 14 2003 by Fraser Cain
4.0 out of 5 stars Not a public service
The book is dry but utterly convincing. Only a pollyanna could seriously disagree with the conclusions.
My point is a practical, compassionate one. Read more
Published on June 20 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars A frightening scenario, backed by facts
Martin Rees asserts in Our Final Hour that the odds are no better than half that the human race will survive to the end of this century. Read more
Published on June 12 2003 by Midwest Book Review
4.0 out of 5 stars A good handbook to our asymmetrical age
If the 19th Century was The Industrial Age, and the 20th Century the Information Age, then Sir Martin Rees's 21st Century may well be The Asymmetrical Age, though he does not use... Read more
Published on June 7 2003 by The Don Wood Files
3.0 out of 5 stars Frightening But Not Developed
Martin Rees, in Our Final Hour (A Scientist's Warning), gets his point across. Humanity's chances on earth have a 50/50 probablility, in the author's opinion, of making it into... Read more
Published on June 2 2003 by Ricky Hunter
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but High Noon by Rischard is Better
This is a good book. If E.O. Wilson had not published "The Future of Life" or J. F. Rischard "High Noon: 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve them", or Brian... Read more
Published on May 29 2003 by Robert David STEELE Vivas
5.0 out of 5 stars Most important book ever written!
This book shows the dangers of advanced technologies and the strong probability that such technologies will cause the extinction of mankind later this century. Read more
Published on May 24 2003 by Rachel Winters
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