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Imprint: Oneworld Publications

Subject: Science

Life as We Made It

How 50,000 years of human innovation refined – and redefined – nature

Beth Shapiro

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 the idea that humans have only recently begun to tinker with the natural world is false. We’ve been meddling with nature since the last ice age, and we’re getting a lot better at it. Drawing on decades of research, Beth Shapiro reveals the surprisingly long history of human intervention in evolution – for good and for ill – and looks ahead to the future, casting aside scaremongering myths about the dangers of interference. New biotechnologies can present us with the chance to improve our own lives, and increase the likelihood that we will continue to live in a rich and biologically diverse world.

  • Publication date: October 6, 2022
  • ISBN: 9780861544370
  • RRP: £10.99
  • Pages: 352
  • Publication date: October 21, 2021
  • ISBN: 9781786079404
  • RRP: £18.99
  • Pages: 352
  • Publication date: October 21, 2021
  • ISBN: 9781786079411
  • RRP: £6.99
  • Pages: 352


‘An accessible, enlightening writer… Big history meets big science – and it’s great entertainment.’

The Times, Best Books of 2021

‘[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.’

New Scientist

‘[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.’

Publishers Weekly

‘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.’

Jennifer Doudna, winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

‘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.’

Neil Shubin, evolutionary biologist and author of Your Inner Fish

‘Very few people write about the insane complexities and power of biology with greater clarity, insight and levity than Beth Shapiro.’

Adam Rutherford, author of A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived

‘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.’

Jamie Metzl, author of Hacking Darwin

‘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.’

Emma Marris, author of Wild Souls

‘[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.’

New StatesmanPhilippa Nuttall

‘Thoughtful and entertaining’

Wall Street JournalAdrian Woolfson

‘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.’


Beth Shapiro

Beth Shapiro is Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UC Santa Cruz. She has appeared on the BBC, National Geographic and Discovery, and written for the Financial Times and Observer. She is the author of the award-winning How to Clone a Mammoth

Author page

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