October 7, 2003
Since the ancient Egyptians, humans have been obsessed with the idea of transforming their bodies and living forever. Now science is circling ever closer to that goal. Are we “playing God?” Introducing a “Brave New World?” Or are we creating an ultrahuman Nirvana? In Rapture, Brian Alexander takes readers into the surprising stories behind cloning, stem cells, miracle drugs, and genetic engineering to show how the battle for the human soul is playing out in the broader culture – and how the outcome will affect each and every one of us.
In Rapture, we meet the Extropians, transhumanists, and the other future subcultures weaned on science fiction and and an unalloyed belief in the future. That belief has spread so widely that ideas formerly relegated to the fringe are now seeping into the mainstream. Indeed, some of the world’s most respected scientists are beginning to speak openly about genetically engineering people and rebuilding human bodies. The two sides are merging.
Rapture traces the fascinating trajectories of these movements, as well as the major players within them. The Dickensian cast of characters includes William Hazeltine, a renowned scientist, corporate CEO, and widely acknowledged father of regenerative medicine; Durk Pearson, an anti-aging guru who downs bucketfulls of vitamins in the hopes of staving off death; and Michael West, the former fundamentalist Christian and founder of ACT, the company that reportedly cloned the first human cell. There’s Deeda Blair, a Washington socialite and dealmaker who helped start a new biotech boom. And finally, John Sperling, an Arizona billionaire who has mounted his own campaign to call down the biotech “rapture.”
Has Alexander brilliantly documents, this motley crew is in part being united by the force the opposition: a burgeoning bio-Luddite movement whose foot soldiers – a strange coalition of Conservative Republicans, the Christian right, and the greens – predict impending doom should we become adherents of the new bio-utopian faith.
In this utterly original blend of popular culture and science, Alexander shows how the biotech agenda has come to be seen as both salvation and heresy. Biotech is now a religion in its own right. Sometimes irreverent, sometimes shocking, always entertaining, Rapture explores how we got here – and why we’ll go where nobody thought we could.
Brian Alexander was a contributing editor for biotechnology at Wired magazine. He has written for the New York Times magazine, Science, Esquire, Outside, and many other magazines and newspapers.