Summary and book reviews of The Human Age by Diane Ackerman

The Human Age

The World Shaped By Us

by Diane Ackerman

The Human Age
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2014, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2015, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sharry Wright

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Book Summary

A beguiling, optimistic engagement with the changes affecting every part of our lives, The Human Age is a wise and beautiful book that will astound, delight, and inform intelligent life for a long time to come.

As Diane Ackerman writes in her brilliant new book, The Human Age, "our relationship with nature has changed…radically, irreversibly, but by no means all for the bad. Our new epoch is laced with invention. Our mistakes are legion, but our talent is immeasurable."

Ackerman is justly celebrated for her unique insight into the natural world and our place in it. In this landmark book, she confronts the unprecedented reality that one prodigiously intelligent and meddlesome creature, Homo sapiens, is now the dominant force shaping the future of planet Earth.

Humans have "subdued 75 percent of the land surface, concocted a wizardry of industrial and medical marvels, strung lights all across the darkness." We tinker with nature at every opportunity; we garden the planet with our preferred species of plants and animals, many of them invasive; and we have even altered the climate, threatening our own extinction.

Yet we reckon with our own destructive capabilities in extraordinary acts of hope-filled creativity: we collect the DNA of vanishing species in a "frozen ark," equip orangutans with iPads, and create wearable technologies and synthetic species that might one day outsmart us. With her distinctive gift for making scientific discovery intelligible to the layperson, Ackerman takes us on an exhilarating journey through our new reality, introducing us to many of the people and ideas now creating—perhaps saving—our future and that of our fellow creatures.

A beguiling, optimistic engagement with the changes affecting every part of our lives, The Human Age is a wise and beautiful book that will astound, delight, and inform intelligent life for a long time to come.

APPS FOR APES

On a blue-sky day at the Toronto zoo, flocks of children squired by teachers and parents mingle excitedly between exhibits. Some kids pull out cell phones and send texts or snap pictures with the easy camaraderie of wired life. Clustered noisily along a large domed habitat that's been designed to look like a multistoried Indonesian forest complete with tree nests and meandering stream, they watch two orangutan moms and young weaving fluently through a maze of thick, flat vines, which in reality are fire hoses. Orangutans are the swivel-hipped aerialists of the ape world, with ankle-length arms built for sky-walking, opposable thumbs and big toes, swervy knees, and bowed ankles. As a result they can twist into almost any angle or pose. In amazement I watch a young female swing smoothly from vine to vine, then grab two with wide-spread hands and feet, flatten her hips, rotate her wrists, and hang still as an orange kite snagged in the treetops.

Even with knuckle-walking ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Taking into consideration the latest technologies, the vast amount of information available online, and the advances in medicine and abilities to improve the human body, Ackerman sets out to answer whether or not it's still possible to fix the mess we've gotten ourselves into. This is a heavy question, but her overriding view is that while we human beings have created serious and threatening environmental chaos that urgently needs to be reined in, Ackerman remains enormously hopeful, reminding us that we are thinkers, builders, rearrangers, and inventors.   (Reviewed by Sharry Wright).

Full Review Members Only (661 words).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Whether Ackerman is writing about an iPad-using orangutan or Polynesian snails whose “interiors belong in a church designed by Gaudí,” her penetrating insight is a joy to behold.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Through compelling and meditative prose, Ackerman delivers top-notch insight on the contemporary human condition.

Author Blurb Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and The World Until Yesterday
Diane Ackerman's vivid writing, inexhaustible stock of insights, and unquenchable optimism have established her as a national treasure, and as one of our great authors. You're now about to become addicted to Diane Ackerman.

Author Blurb Siddhartha Mukherjee, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies
In this amazingly illuminating book, Diane Ackerman explains our future with her typically intoxicating blend of scholarship, wisdom, grace and humor.

Author Blurb Jonathan Weiner, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Beak of the Finch and Long for this World
Diane Ackerman writes with brilliance, zest, and high style. In a difficult time, we need to hear this voice of human affirmation. It's important. It matters. I read The Human Age and thought, Yes! This is the way to look ahead.

Author Blurb Terry Tempest Williams, author of When Women Were Birds
The Human Age allows us to consider whether or not we will accept destruction or restoration as our legacy. I cannot imagine a richer text of image and insight, rendered with grace, intelligence and stamina.

Author Blurb Lawrence Weschler, author of Everything that Rises, Pulitzer Prize finalist
With this stirringly vivid, darkbright manifesto, Diane Ackerman summons us to the wager of sheer possibility: life against death, delight still (if only just barely) trouncing despair.

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Beyond the Book

Patrick Blanc And the Vertical Garden

In the past twenty years, planted walls and vertical gardens, one of the many innovations showcased in The Human Age, have gone from novelty to mainstream, as part of the reconciliation ecology movement that is working to preserve or increase urban biodiversity. All around the world, vertical gardens are creating dynamic ecosystems that attract butterflies and birds, help clean the air, produce more oxygen, and reduce noise, while also softening contours, feeding the human spirit, and reconnecting urban dwellers with the natural world.

Patrick Blanc One of the people responsible for the creation of many of the large-scale vertical gardens is French botanist Patrick Blanc. Widely referenced as the modern innovator of the green wall, Blanc spent ...

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