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Unnatural: The Heretical Idea of Making People
February 2011
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Unnatural: The Heretical Idea of Making People
by Philip Ball

* Can we make a human being?* That question has been asked for many centuries, and has produced recipes ranging from the homunculus of the medieval alchemists and the clay golem of Jewish legend to Frankenstein's monster and the mass-produced test-tube babies in Brave New World. * All of these efforts to create artificial people are more or less fanciful, but they have taken deep root in Western culture. They all express fears about the allegedly treacherous, Faustian nature of technology, and they all question whether any artificially created person can be truly human. Legends of people-making are tainted by suspicions of impiety and hubris, and they are regarded as the ultimate 'unnatural' act - a moral judgement that has its origins in religious thought.* In this fascinating and highly topical study, Philip Ball delves beneath the surface of the cultural history of 'anthropoeia' - the creation of artificial people - to explore what it tells us about our views on life, humanity, creativity and technology, and the soul. From the legendary inventor Daedalus to Goethe's tragic Faust, from the automata-making magicians of E.T.A Hoffmann to Mary Shelley's Victor Frankenstein - the old tales and myths are alive and well, subtly manipulating the current debates about assisted conception, embryo research and human cloning, which have at last made the fantasy of 'making people' into some kind of reality.


Reviews

If Ball's book is an entertaining romp across centuries and genres, it also has a target...What Ball does so effectively...is to show why language and stories matter- in effect, why humanities matter
Michele Pridmore-Brown (TLS)

Labelling Ball a science writer sells his writing short, for its value lies above all in a range that dissolves the awkward silences between science and the larger culture of which it is part.
Marek Kohn (Independent)

This is a fascinating book
Jonathan Rée (Evening Standard)

Meticulous, witty and sometimes provocative
Patrick Skene Catling (Sunday Times)

Ball's thoughtful book is a reminder that as we try and deal with how to enable and assist people into being, we need to understand and then conquer our fears surrounding the very idea of making people
Manjit Kumar (Guardian)

Unnatural is a beautifully-written, deeply-intelligent book that will force every reader to rethink at least some of their preconceptions
Jim Endersby (Sunday Telegraph)

Ball's assiduously science-literature approach is very welcome
Roy Wilkinson (The Word)

The two cultures of science and art are not antagonists, divergent in their aims and mutually unintelligible: they happily cohabit inside Ball's compendious, eclectic head
Peter Conrad (Observer)

A brave, sane and intellectually nimble account of a topic which only gets more ambiguous with each scientific advance. Unnatural is fascinating and engaging, and a polemic only for cool heads and open hearts when dealing with issues of such serious and profound complexity
Stuart Kelly (Scotland on Sunday)

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