Book Review: The Immortalisation Commision

This review, originally posted on the I,Science Blog, is of John Gray’s latest book published in the US yesterday:

Death and Taxes. Attempt to cheat one and you will end up in prison, attempt to cheat the other and there will be a more interesting set of situations, as explored in John Gray’s new book.

‘The Immortalisation Commission’ catalogues the attempts of late 19th and early 20th Century scientists and intellectuals to reconcile life after death with the implications of evolution by natural selection.

The book begins well, successfully evoking the panic and chaos of a society struggling to come to terms with their mortality with no promise of an afterlife. It then goes on to describe the attempts of Western Europeans to use ‘automatic writing’ to receive messages from the dead, before moving on to Soviet Russian occultism then taking a look at more modern concepts such as cryonics. Whilst these tales are no doubt interesting, I am not sure they are engaging enough to sustain a full book. The book is too fixated on ideological experimentation, I was hoping for more information on experimental attempts such as Demikov’s attempts to keep decapitated dog heads alive.

Despite these reservations, it is still worth a read as it gives you a window into an issue that is rarely mentioned when the initial impact of the theory of evolution is discussed.


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