Tag Archives: medicine

To Be a Machine by Mark O’Connell

To Be a Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death by Mark O’Connell. February 28, 2017. Doubleday, 256 p. ISBN: 9780385540414.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

Meet the visionaries, billionaires, professors, and programmers who are using groundbreaking technology to push the limits of the human body our senses, intelligence, and our lifespans

Once relegated to the fringes of society, transhumanism (the use of technology to enhance human intellectual and physical capability) is now poised to enter our cultural mainstream. It has found adherents in Silicon Valley billionaires Ray Kurzweil and Peter Diamandis. Google has entered the picture, establishing a bio-tech subsidiary aimed at solving the problem of aging.

In To Be a Machine, journalist Mark O’Connell takes a headlong dive into this burgeoning movement. He travels to the laboratories, conferences, and basements of today’s foremost transhumanists, where he’s presented with the staggering possibilities and moral quandaries of new technologies like mind uploading, artificial superintelligence, cryonics, and device implants.

A contributor to Slate, The New Yorker, and The New York Times Magazine, O’Connell serves as a sharp and lively guide to the outer limits of technology in the twenty first century. In investigating what it means to be a machine, he offers a surprising, singular meditation on what it means to be human.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Strong sexual themes; Alcohol



Booklist (December 1, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 7))
O’Connell, Slate’s book columnist and contributor to the New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker, the Observer, and the Independent, writes pensively on the growing movement of transhumanism, the use of technology to enhance human physical, mental, and intellectual developments. O’Connell investigates this movement through his travels across the globe, from San Francisco to London, to meet with transhumanists in their homes, conferences, informal gatherings, and labs. From device implants to human cyborgs, O’Connell weaves his journey together via a series of encounters and discussions with transhumanists. Readers will appreciate O’Connell’s sense of humor and his fast-paced writing, and will at times feel like they’re having a dialogue with the author as he ponders the ethics, consequences, and dilemmas of these transhumanist activities embedded in society today. Those who are interested in artificial intelligence, bioengineering, technology, and human development will find this book to be deeply engrossing and informative on the topic of transhumanism and what it means to be a human today and in the future.

Kirkus Reviews (December 15, 2016)
An enlightening tour of transhumanism, the movement dedicated to radically prolonging human life. In his first book, Slate book columnist and Millions staff writer O’Connell chronicles his travels around the world meeting and discussing transhumanism with the movement’s aficionados. The narrative is packed with eccentric characters, but none subscribe to the far more popular commercial life-extension industry that promises immediate results. On the contrary, transhumanists aim to achieve their goals through genuine technical advances, including implants, genetic modification, prostheses, mind-uploading, and biohacking. Those who feel they’ve been born too soon will perk up at O’Connell’s early chapter on Alcor, a cryopreservation facility where technicians will, for $200,000, carefully freeze your body upon death (just your head runs $80,000) and keep it until thawing, revival, and reconditioning become feasible options. Most governments and universities refuse to finance research aimed at immortality, but Silicon Valley billionaires, among others, are less inhibited. As such, O’Connell turns up plenty of freelancers with legitimate scientific backgrounds working on the problem as well as websites (Maxlife.org), organizations (Humanity Plus, described on its website as advocating “the ethical use of emerging technologies to enhance human capacities”), and even venture capital firms (Longevity Fund). Elderly readers may gnash their teeth, but others will have hope since many experts predict breakthroughs within decades. O’Connell does not claim to be impartial. He lets spokesmen have their say, explains their science for a lay audience, and does not conceal his amusement at wacky enthusiasts or his dismay at gruesome self-experiments. He also detours into robotics and artificial intelligence, which, once computers become smarter than humans, may render our perishable bodies irrelevant. Skeptics deliver thoughtful warnings, and O’Connell himself waxes hot and cold. An unsettling but informative and sometimes-optimistic view of mostly legitimate efforts at life extension.

About the Author

Mark O’Connell is a books columnist for Slate, and staff writer at The Millions. He is the author of To Be a Machine.

His work has been published in The New York Times Magazine, The Observer, and The New Yorker‘s “Page-Turner”. He lives in Dublin.


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Florence Nightingale by Catherine Reef

Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse by Catherine Reef. November 8, 2016. Clarion Books, 192 p. ISBN: 9780544535800. Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1050.

Most people know Florence Nightingale was a compassionate and legendary nurse, but they don’t know her full story. This riveting biography explores the exceptional life of a woman who defied the stifling conventions of Victorian society to pursue what was considered an undesirable vocation. She is best known for her work during the Crimean War, when she vastly improved gruesome and deadly conditions and made nightly rounds to visit patients, becoming known around the world as the Lady with the Lamp. Her tireless and inspiring work continued after the war, and her modern methods in nursing became the defining standards still used today.

Includes notes, bibliography, and index.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Prostitution


Booklist starred (June 1, 2016 (Vol. 112, No. 19))
Grades 7-10. With special attention to detail and engaging prose, Reef chronicles the life of the mother of modern nursing. Raised in England with a governess and her own father as a tutor, Florence displayed a curiosity for the workings of the natural world, even keeping a catalog of illnesses that beset her family. Though her parents turned up their noses at the idea of her entering nursing—at the time run by religious orders and in “dirty, disgusting” hospitals—Florence was determined. Studying reports of hospitals and health care and taking trips to visit hospitals overseas paid off, as Florence was given oversight of nurses for British forces in the Crimean War. Journalists covering the war brought back news to the homeland of this mysterious Lady with the Lamp. Suddenly, she was famous—though insistent that these popular images hardly represent the exhausting work of nursing. Perhaps most fascinating and relatable for young readers is Florence’s tumultuous relationship with her sister, Parthenope, which softened only with her fame. Budding scientists will enjoy seeing the changing theories about contagion, such as the later-debunked miasma theory, of which Florence was a staunch believer. Portraits, drawings, and other ephemera immerse readers in mid-nineteenth-century Europe. A captivating and inspiring study of one woman’s perseverance and the good that came from it.

Horn Book Magazine (September/October, 2016)
Reef brings her keen eye for character to the “Lady with the Lamp,” Florence Nightingale. Nightingale’s service during the Crimean War, where she emphasized the importance of good sanitation and a calm demeanor among hospital workers, bringing hope to the injured and dying, made her a worldwide celebrity. At a time when a woman was expected to “[obey] her husband if she was married or her father if she remained single,” Nightingale acquiesced to no one, finding meaning in the work of saving lives and advancing the nursing profession like few before or since. Making fine use of primary sources, Reef paints a complete picture of the complex woman (her management style was “curt”; when advised to be more encouraging to nurses in training, “Nightingale replied that she had no time for such trifles”). All of that character development is sometimes detrimental to the pacing; the book’s first quarter moves rather slowly. But those readers who stick with the book will come away with a true appreciation for a crucial historical figure. Source notes and a selected bibliography are included; index unseen. sam bloom

About the Author

Catherine Reef is the author of more than 35 nonfiction books for young people. Her books for Clarion include the highly acclaimed JOHN STEINBECK and SIGMUND FREUD, which was the recipient of the 2002 Sydney Taylor Award, presented by the Association of Jewish Libraries. She lives in College Park, Maryland.

Her website is www.catherinereef.com.

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Florence Nightingale on Amazon

Florence Nightingale on JLG

Florence Nightingale on Goodreads