Dynamist Blog


Bill McKibben's new book, Enough, is said to be quite well written, as one would expect from a famously literary author. The book is an attack on genetic engineering of humans. Those who read The End of Nature (or TFAIE) may recall that McKibben wrote in that earlier book that "The prospect of living in a genetically engineered world sickens me." Now he's written a whole book about that sickening prospect.

I haven't read the book (I've ordered it), so I can't critique the prose and I can only infer the argument. But even without reading the book, I'm 100% sure it isn't "brave"--the favorite adjective of its reviewers.

I first noticed this annoying tic in David Gelernter's Wired review, which calls Bill McKibben's new book "brave and luminous." Not really a surprise from Gelernter, whose prejudices the book surely confirms. But what about Zack Lynch, who writes Corante's Brainwaves blog. Where did he get the braveness meme? (Braveness reference aside, Zack's post is worth reading.)

This is an abuse of language. McKibben's book may be sincere, forceful, impassioned. It may be well written. But it is not brave. It will offend absolutely no one who matters in Bill McKibben's world. To the contrary, it will reinforce the righteous self-image of those who promote his career. By writing this book, McKibben can count on attention and praise. That doesn't make him a coward. But neither does it make him brave--or the reviewers brave for praising him.

And if those who disagree with him won't do so loudly in public, because they're intimidated by his fame and style or want to placate his fans, well, "brave" isn't the word for them either.

Update: Here's an excerpt from the book. Here's an excerpt from a lecture McKibben gave at Tufts Here are blurbs (including predictable praise from Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly, and Michael Pollan, an editor at the NYT Magazine) and book tour info.

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