‘An accessible, enlightening writer… Big history meets big science – and it’s great entertainment.’
Life as We Made It
How 50,000 years of human innovation refined – and redefined – natureBeth Shapiro
A Times Best Book of 2021
From the very first dog to glowing fish and designer pigs – the human history of remaking nature.
Virus-free mosquitoes, resurrected dinosaurs, designer humans – such is the power of the science of tomorrow. But this idea that we have only recently begun to manipulate the natural world is false. We’ve been meddling with nature since the last ice age. It’s just that we’re getting better at it – a lot better.
Drawing on decades of research, Beth Shapiro reveals the surprisingly long history of human intervention in evolution through hunting, domesticating, polluting, hybridizing, conserving and genetically modifying life on Earth. Looking ahead to the future, she casts aside the scaremongering myths on the dangers of interference, and outlines the true risks and incredible opportunities that new biotechnologies will offer us in the years ahead. Not only do they present us with the chance to improve our own lives, but they increase the likelihood that we will continue to live in a rich and biologically diverse world.
‘[Life as We Made It] provides a detailed exploration of some of the most influential technologies of our time. It also offers a tantalising glimpse of what might be in store in the future, when humanity starts to mix things up all over again.’
‘[A] fun-filled survey… Shapiro’s anecdotes are full of energy… Perfect for fans of Mary Roach, this is science writing with much to savour.’
‘A brilliant combination of science, natural history, and first-person experience, Life as We Made It shows how our species has been manipulating nature for nearly as long as we’ve been around. Anyone who wants to better understand the future of life – human and otherwise – should read this book.’
‘For the past two decades, Beth Shapiro has pioneered using ancient DNA to understand the diversity of life. In Life as We Made It, her twin passions for cutting-edge science and natural history leap from every page. This book will entertain and challenge you to think in new ways about our role in the future of life on Earth.’
‘Very few people write about the insane complexities and power of biology with greater clarity, insight and levity than Beth Shapiro.’
‘In this brilliant new book, biologist Beth Shapiro tells the incredible story of how we’re remaking much of nature and lays out a thoughtful path for how we can survive and thrive by learning to more wisely apply our god-like powers.’
‘Shapiro chronicles the many ways humans have influenced the evolutionary trajectories of other species, from prehistory through the present day. Tools like CRISPR are just the latest way we have shaped the life on this planet. She effectively makes the case that our use of evolution as a tool is ethically acceptable, if done carefully and with informed consent.’
‘[Shapiro’s] expansive survey of the hopes and fears – and the hypes and fails – of genetic manipulation is an enjoyable tour of “impossible” species created to solve pressing human problems… She builds a convincing case… there is no doubt that synthetic biology has the potential to help solve some of our biggest global problems. With this clear-eyed account of its humanitarian potential, Shapiro has done the field a great service.’
‘Life as We Made It presents a compelling vision that encourages us to be more open-minded.’
‘Thoughtful and entertaining’
‘In an age when “technology” has become synonymous with the information kind, it is worth being reminded that other sorts are available. And with one of them people can, if they so choose, remake themselves.’