Enough Staying Human in an Engineered Age

Bill McKibben

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

288 Pages



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From the author of The End of Nature comes a passionate plea to limit the technologies that could change the very definition of who we are. We are on the verge of crossing a line—from born to made, from created to built. Sometime in the next few years, a scientist will reprogram a human egg or sperm cell, spawning a genetic change that could be passed down into eternity. We are sleepwalking toward the future, argues Bill McKibben, and it’s time to open our eyes.

In The End of Nature, published nearly fifteen years ago, McKibben demonstrated that humanity had begun to alter irrevocably—and endanger—our environment on a global scale. Now he turns his eye to a new and equally urgent issue: the dangers inherent in an array of technologies that threaten not just our survival, but our identity.

Imagine a future where lab workers can reprogram human embryos to make our children "smarter" or "more sociable" or "happier." Some researchers are doing more than imagining this future: having worked with such changes on a wide range of other animals, they've begun to plan for what they see as the inevitable transformation of our species. They are joined by other engineers, working in fields like advanced robotics and nanotechnology, who foresee a not-very-distant day when people merge with machines to create a "posthuman" world.

Enough examines such possibilities, and explains how we can avoid their worst consequences while still enjoying the fruits of our new scientific understandings. More, it confronts the most basic questions that our technological society faces: Will we ever decide that we've grown powerful enough? Can we draw a line and say this far and no further?

McKibben answers yes, and argues that only by staying human can we find true meaning in our lives. A warning against the gravest dangers human beings have ever faced, this wise and eloquent book is also a passionate defense of the world we were born into, and a celebration of our ability to say, "Enough."


Praise for Enough

"Enough is a passionate, succinct, chilling, closely argued, sometimes hilarious, touchingly well-intentioned, and essential summary of the future proposed by 'science' for the human race."—Margaret Atwood, The New York Review of Books

"McKibben has done a top-notch job of researching and writing about one of the most important topics of the current age. Enough is an important book and needs to be read by everyone with an interest in keeping the human future human."—The Weekly Standard

"A reflective essay that surveys advanced technologies, what the leading minds feel about them, and the profound effects they'll likely have on society . . . McKibben has performed a public service with Enough by prodding us to ask crucial questions about the future of humanity that will be taking shape in just a few short years."—Steven Martinovich, The Christian Science Monitor

"Brave and luminous . . . Bill McKibben understands genetics—but he knows poetry, too."—Wired

"McKibben has produced a book that is both a sequel and an equal to his brilliant The End of Nature . . . Enough is an equally ambitious and important book. In it, McKibben examines the dark potential at the center of three glittering and converging technologies: genetic engineering and, to a lesser extent, robotics and nanotechnology. Where The End of Nature described a widening gulf between humans and our environment, Enough suggests that an even more terrifying break looms: a technologically driven division between the human past and a post-human future. In the name of progress, he asserts, we are about to engineer ourselves out of existence. McKibben is a gifted writer and thinker, and there is no better proof of his prodigious talents than the fact that he is able to make such a scenario seem not just plausible but likely. After reading Enough, the question must be asked whether or not this dystopia can be avoided."—Osha Gray Davidson, Los Angeles Times Book Review (cover review)

"In this wise, well-researched, and important book, Bill McKibben addresses the burning philosophical question of the new century, and the one that counts for the long haul: how to control the technoscientific juggernaut before it dehumanizes our species."—E. O. Wilson, author of The Future of Life

"Without question, this is one of the most important books of the year. McKibben deserves to be read, to be discussed, to be heard."—The San Diego Union-Tribune

"Fiercely important . . . the most thought-provoking piece of nonfiction I've read in a long time."—The Toronto Globe and Mail

"More than a decade ago, in The End of Nature, Bill McKibben became the first writer to confront the implications of global warming, framing the issue in a way no one could ignore. Now, in Enough, he shines his powerful light on another, equally momentous change that is upon us: the ability to re-engineer ourselves and therefore the very meaning of human identity. If McKibben is right, then humankind stands on a moral and existential threshold—or cliff. We would do well as a society to weigh his bracing argument before taking another step."—Michael Pollan, author of The Botany of Desire

"Your book, I think, will be recognized as indispensable. It makes an informed, careful, always intelligent response to the now inescapable question: Are we willing to submit our freedom and our dearest meanings to a technological determinism imposed by the alignment of science, technology, industry, and half-conscious politics? Your answer is sensible and difficult: We can, if we will, say no. The difficulty is in the next question: Is it possible for us to refuse to do something that we can do? This is not a happy book, but it is, in its courage and its affirmation of what we have to lose, a book that is hopeful and hope-giving."—Wendell Berry, from a letter to the author

"An indispensable book, because just as we would expect an architect to show how he plans to redesign our home, we must know how scientists intend to remake us and our world. And, McKibben notes, the blueprint might be drawn, but the scaffolding has not yet been raised."—Chicago Sun-Times

"[McKibben] has raised necessary, disturbing questions to which anyone who is involved in engineering cutting-edge technology must give serious thought."—St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"McKibben writes eloquently about what makes us most human, such as the striving of a marathon runner or the painful awareness of death that helps bring beauty into sharp focus. He argues that scientific advances threaten to devalue our humanity and even, one day, to defeat death."—The Hartford Courant

"We may well look back at the publication of Enough as a threshold event. In this impeccably fair argument of the most complex technologies ever created by humankind, the consequences of large-scale tinkering with life are brilliantly laid out. It is not an exaggeration to compare human germline engineering to nuclear technology. While the horror of atomic weapons is the destruction of human civilization, the shadow cast by engineering homo sapiens is the obliteration of what it means to be a human. Bill McKibben has flooded the debate with a new light that shows that the old arguments, pro or con, did not touch the essence of the crisis we face."—Paul Hawken, author of The Ecology of Commerce

"The proponents of new technologies talk a lot about the benefits they see, but less of the dangers; genomics, nanotechnology and robotics can do incredible things, but they clearly threaten our civilization and even our species. It's time we thought long and hard about what we want and what we need. For anyone who cares about the future this book is a must read."—Bill Joy, chief scientist, Sun Microsystems

"A provocative . . . invocation of the need for awe, love, spiritual life, and humanity . . . McKibben paints a grim canvas of what will happen if nothing is done to arrest the 'technotopian' dreams of the gene engineers who will germline-insert all the smart genes that will turn rich kids into a superspecies and leave the poor behind on the evolutionary tree; the nanotechs and roboticists who will combine their inventions to produce atom-sized servants able to synthesize anything; the immortalists who will develop strategies never to die and thus populate the planet (and space) forever."—Kirkus Reviews

"McKibben turns a passionate and revealing spotlight on our headlong rush into technology . . . He makes a strong and compelling case for examining the medical, social, ethical, and philosophical argument against certain technological advancements that come eerily close to leaving behind humanness and, thus, all the intangible irrationalities that make us who we are. This is a disturbing though ultimately optimistic book that explores the possibility of technology replacing humanity and rouses within us the impulse to declare: enough."—Vanessa Bush, Booklist

"Readers will come away from [McKibben's] latest brilliantly provocative work shaking their heads at the possible future he portrays, yet understanding that becoming a pain-free, all-but-immortal, genetically enhanced semi-robot may be deeply unsatisfactory compared to being an ordinary man or woman who has faced his or her fear of death to relish what is. This is a brilliant book that deserves a wide readership."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

From Enough:

What will you have done to your newborn when you have installed into the nucleus of every one of her billions of cells a purchased code that will pump out proteins designed to change her? You will have robbed her of the last possible chance for creating context--meaning--for her life. Say she finds herself, at the age of sixteen, unaccountably happy. Is it her being happy--finding, perhaps, the boy she will first love--or is it the corporate product inserted within her when she was a small nest of cells, an artificial chromosome now causing her body to produce more serotonin?
Read the full excerpt


  • Bill McKibben

  • Bill McKibben is the author of a dozen books, including The End of Nature, Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age, and Deep Economy. A former staff writer for The New Yorker, he writes regularly for Harper’s, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New York Review of Books, among other publications. He is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College and lives in Vermont with his wife, the writer Sue Halpern, and their daughter.
  • Bill McKibben Steve Liptay
    Bill McKibben