The Fate of the Species: Just How Screwed Are We?


Mass extinction events, superviruses, climate change and reverse genetics keeping you up at night? Maybe they should. The Fate of the Species: Why The Human Race May Cause Its Own Extinction and How We Can Stop It (Bloomsbury, $25, hardcover) by Fred Guterl, is the ultimate apocalyptic bedtime story, leaving you more aware than ever just how vulnerable the human race is.

Guterl, in a style described as “deliciously pessimistic,” has deftly created a page turner of cautionary tales comprised of “what if” scenarios. Whatever your secret fears are — a deadly superbug, a cataclysmic climate change event or technology run amok — Guterl has worried about them, too, and talked to the top scientific experts who weigh in on what threats are real and what may be on the horizon.

Guterl takes us through history’s “uh-oh” moments — dinosaurs moments before the meteor hit, Black Death in the 14th century, settlers wiped out on Greenland by climate change — and what bioweapons experts learned from a simulated smallpox attack dubbed Dark Winter, just months before 9/11.

Like all good tellers of bedtime stories, Guterl, an executive editor at Scientific American, injects just enough optimism, holding out the promise of ingenuity winning over extinction, so you can sleep at night, albeit with a nightmare or two. Beyond the fear factor, the book comprehensively navigates the biggest menaces we face as a species and details what scientists are currently doing or could do, to try and avert them. It also shows us how much more we need to think about saving the planet and ourselves, way beyond riding our bikes to work.

Guterl will be speaking and signing copies of The Fate of the Species at Watchung Booksellers on Sunday, June 3, at 3 pm.

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  1. I am so looking forward to this event, and to finally getting to meet Fred! Sounds like a great read.

  2. “Mass extinction events, superviruses, climate change and reverse genetics keeping you up at night?”

    No. I am much more concerned with who will win Dancing With the Stars. Living proof that the world does not end with a bang, but with a whimper…

  3. guess what? the world is always just about to be over for all of us. that doesn’t mean things can’t change, and that we can’t work to make life better for those who go on, but…just live your life and get some joy, okay? like, now.

  4. Perhaps Fred could tell me whether I should worry so much about the value of my 401(k)…or even if I should just stop paying into it altogether!

  5. If we are of mass/energy and mass/energy is conserved then there is nothing to worry about.

  6. I really hope we’ll last until Sunday so I can get my copy signed. I wonder if Fred is as cute in person as he is in this photo?

  7. “Why the human race MAY cause its own extinction…”

    Really not all that apocalyptic if you ask me, more of a foregone conclusion.

  8. Thanks so much for the review, Liz, and thanks for the comments. I hope to see you all at Watchung Booksellers on Sunday. Assuming we last that long, of course. With the way this weather’s going, I reckon by then the surface of New Jersey will be hot enough to melt lead, so plan accordingly.

  9. A Sunday afternoon in June (which is so rare, right?) isn’t exactly the best scheduling option for a book signing. Especially one which seems to be chockful of millenarian-sounding angst. Theresa Guidice at least rates midweek evenings at Barnes & Noble.

    I nonetheless wish Guterl well. And how does he pronounce his surname? As in “guttural?”

  10. Also, why are comments closed on the latest of several items on the “dinosaurs” in Secaucus? It’s even relevant to Guterl’s book, since the item above does note that he imagines the monent for these critters before the meteor strikes. I’m curious if these anumatronic thingies operate in the rain. (And surely it rained now and then during the Jurassic era.)

  11. You may be relieved to know that soon we may be able to transplant our very souls into the animatronic thingies, cathar. Or at least one or two people think so.

  12. “Mon ame eternelle,” fredg, is (similar to Rimbaud’s) eminently non-transferrable. To believe otherwise would be the worst of heresies.

  13. Since it is to be a Sunday afternoon in June, jerseygurl, neither my soul nor my physical body will be able to attend this particular signing. They will be assorted “elsewheres.”

    Still, with just a wee bit of searching, I’ve located a copy of Guterl’s boook for quite a bit less than Watchung (not at all one of my favorite places anyway) will probably vending even at a smallish discount, and even with shipping. (It’s probably thus a reviewer’s copy, and how those “reviewers” get away with not claiming whatever they made from this transaction as income always bugs me.) Perhaps he can sign copies purchased elsewhere? I’ve seen authors who, upon receiving a copy of a sales receipt for the book, happily send out signed bookplates, for instance.

  14. Crankypants, why not bring you reviewer’s copy to the event for an autograph? The world is going to end anyway, so It’s not likely Fred will mind.

  15. Ma’am, as usual you’re failing Reading Comp 101 in your usual pitiful fashion. As I wrote above, I have other things to do Sunday afternoon. That you apparently don’t just shows how limited your intellectual and social horizons both are.

    And bookstores traditionally do not appreciate people bringing in items purchased elsewhere for signings. Perhaps if you spent more time in bookstores you’d have known that? (You’ll even find that books there come in both hardcover and paperback editions.)

  16. Ma’am, as usual you seem to have failed Reading Com 101. As I noted above, I have other things to do Sunday afternoon. That you apparently don’t just shows me how limited your intellectual and social horizons both are.

    Bookstores, too, traditionally don’t appreciate at all items purchased elsewhere being brought in for signings. Which is something you might have known if you’d actually spent some time in bookstores. (Another tip for you: books today come in both hardcover and paperback editions.)

    I know you try to be witty, jerseygurl. It’s just that you’re not very good at it.

  17. In case you didn’t get a chance to see it, JG, cathar said that you’ve failed Reading Comp (or “Com”) 101.

    It was such a great, funny line that he felt compelled to post it twice!

    Believe me, NO bookstore is eager to have such a human sedative in the shop. Leave Major Hoople to his Sunday afternoon spent in his usual fashion — trolling the site looking for something to harumph about whilst at the same time pulling the wings off flies.

  18. If I go to the book signing will a cat fight break out?

    Fred’s Scientific American as well as DIscover are two of only a few magazines showing increased circulation and profitable advertising revenue. It is nice to learn that interest in our planet and how it works is thriving. I hope plenty of young would-be scientists show up to meet a local hero.

  19. My reading comprehension is just fine. I read “assorted elsewhere’s” and assumed that meant he would be sitting at home alone with his cats.

  20. Hate to say it but we’re pretty much screwed the way things are going. Circling the millennial drain.

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