Who needs God when you’ve got a bunch of brilliant scientists with no-holds-barred attitudes willing to delve deeply into the world of biotechnology, no matter where it takes them -- or us? That is the basic premise behind Rapture: How Biotech Became the New Religion, a fascinating glimpse into the world of cutting-edge, beyond-futuristic, even unthinkable research into cloning, freezing human brains, stem cell research, miracle drugs, anti-aging science and genetically engineered super-humans.
If this sounds like a sci-fi novel, be assured it isn’t. But author Brian Alexander, a writer for Wired, the New York Times and other major publications, treats the subject matter with a buoyancy that makes this fun reading, but nonfiction reading nonetheless. Alexander introduces us to some wild, clever, wacky and genius-level individuals who make up this Brave New World of transformational science, and we get to see what it is like in the labs, in the boardrooms and in the political environments where these people cook up their revolutionary concepts and then try to persuade those in power to fund their research with millions of dollars in cold, hard cash. We meet women obsessed with the perfect body, men who desire their bodies frozen for posterity, scientists sure that aging, even death, have no real part in future reality. We look at pharmaceutical advances that seem like salvation in a pill, and blunders that seem like hell in a bottle. We go inside the minds of the courageous few who dare to do the unthinkable: make a better human being than nature ever could.
This engaging book also presents the “other side,” arguments by Greens, bio-Luddites and conservatives worried about doing God’s job and messing with natural processes. Throughout the book, we flip-flop between our fascination for what just might be possible someday and our disgust at the arrogance and sheer lack of ethics some of those involved in making the impossible possible seem to display. The ultimate question this book seems to pose is, do we really want to live forever? If so, how can that be accomplished? Getting to the answers proves one hell of a roller-coaster ride, courtesy of Alexander’s breezy, deft handling of the subject.
As I read this book, I found myself becoming more amused than excited about the possibilities discussed. Live forever? Who’d want to! Grow extra limbs? Maybe, but would they have a “mind” of their own? Do away with aging? What about wisdom? For every question this book poses, it brings up several more, which is the hallmark of a book that will make you think long after you close the cover and set it aside.
Rapture is about a world many of us may never see up close and personal, for these super drugs and anti-death concepts have a long way to go before they work. Rather, it presents a world we can only dream of or read about in novels. It is the world of science fiction about to become science fact. And the outcome will effect future generations, if not our own, in ways we can only begin to imagine.