- BOOK REVIEW
Microbes are the future, and the joy of games: Books in brief
The Genesis Machine
Amy Webb & Andrew Hessel PublicAffairs (2022)
Two moving stories bracket this fascinating survey of the present and future of biotechnology. Futurist Amy Webb and synthetic biologist Andrew Hessel describe their attempts to bypass personal fertility struggles by using cutting-edge technologies. Very soon, they argue, such difficulties could be obsolete, thanks to a “genesis machine” of people, labs, computer systems, government agencies and businesses that are “creating new interpretations, as well as new forms, of life” — along with unprecedented ethical, legal and political dilemmas.
Oliver Roeder Norton (2022)
In a cautionary Aesop fable, a grasshopper asks an ant to play games on a summer day, rather than seeking food for winter. Ant refuses. Come winter, ant eats well; grasshopper goes hungry. But to journalist Oliver Roeder, the ludic grasshopper is the “diligent hero”. Roeder’s appealing biography of seven games — draughts (checkers), backgammon, chess, Go, poker, Scrabble and bridge — explores why play is both fascinating and necessary. Judging by the pandemic boom in online games, especially chess and Scrabble, many agree.
Greg Brennecka William Morrow (2022)
Some meteorites contain diamonds older than the Sun, along with, astonishingly, predominantly left-handed amino acids and large amounts of water — the ingredients of life on Earth. Did meteors feature in the inception of the Solar System and of life? “To study meteorites truly is about studying origins,” concludes Greg Brennecka, one of only about 100 full-time, professional meteoricists around the world. His far-ranging and entertaining study deserves to win converts, although its ‘pop’ comparisons can be off-putting.
A Natural History of the Future
Rob Dunn Basic (2021)
“Most depictions of the future do not even include non-human life, except on distant farms (tended by robots) or in indoor gardens,” notes ecologist Rob Dunn. This is misleading, argues his articulate study of the relationship between humans and other life. Non-human life will survive us, suggests an experiment by microbiologist Michael Baym: bacteria exposed to increasingly concentrated antibiotics evolved resistance in just 10–12 days. Microorganisms will probably dominate the post-human world, as in the beginning of life on Earth.
Ben Rawlence Jonathan Cape (2022)
The concept of a fixed treeline, beyond which trees will not grow, has become redundant because of climate change. In the boreal forest encircling the globe, “the trees are on the move” towards the North Pole, notes writer and environmental activist Ben Rawlence. Having seen this migration for himself, he writes with accuracy, beauty and urgency about six key treeline species: Scots pine in Scotland, birch in Scandinavia, larch in Siberia, spruce in Alaska, poplar in Canada and mountain ash in Greenland.
The author declares no competing interests.