Even if I wasn't teaching a course this spring about fears of the apocalypse, I would've really enjoyed this book. Newitz gives you a great tour of planetary history, emphasizing the five mass extinctions that mark Earth's evolutionary record, then spending lots of time on human evolution over the last million years. Worth writing home about? The section explaining just how narrow is our species diversity, compared to that of mice, and the reasons behind the situation.
At bottom, Newitz' thesis is that we'll be heading for the stars, probably just as soon as we figure out how to build a space elevator. (Mind you, George Dvorsky has explained on Newitz's own site just why we'll probably never build one....) If we don't manage a space elevator, though, we'll either build a singularity or in fact turn into one, and either way, extinction just won't be able to touch us again because we'll be such fricking geniuses that we'll eat the universe to spread everywhere.
When does science become magical thinking, and can it even count as a critique to say that? In amongst all the fascination are batches of staggering arrogance, not Newitz' but of the scientists she interviews, so it's a fun exercise to pick through the egos and ideas. It'd be great if someone humble was right, and if we'll be able to survive indefinitely with humility, but wow, the chances of that seem low.
Me, I'm just going to keep trying to nurse my tomatoes past their blossom end rot; I'll make another batch this fall of crabapple jelly; and I'll wish for genuine humaneness in the world. It can't hurt, can it?
Of course, maybe we should just read David Brin's thoughts about all this, or check in briefly with Pictures for Sad Children, and get over ourselves.