Twenty-five scientists predict where life, the universe, and everything else are headed—and the scary thing is, they're probably right.


edited by John Brockman (Vintage Books, $14) IS THERE ANYTHING pleasanter than lying in a hammock, a cool drink within reach, and reading about the ultimate fate of the universe? I don't know anything, so I'm ready to forgive John Brockman for this egregious piece of self-promotion. Brockman, you see, is the literary agent known to be able to land lucrative book contracts for underpaid, hard-working scientists. So when he asks 25 leading thinkers in the physics, astronomy, and biotech fields (most of whom he already represents) to contribute essays to a little collection he's planning, well, the request is actually more like an order. OK, but apart from having to pay to read a sample of excerpts from forthcoming books by authors in Brockman's stable, The Next Fifty Years is a lot of mind-stretching fun. The second half of the book—on what the experts think is actually going to happen by 2050—is, surprisingly, less intriguing than the essays in the first half, devoted to theoretical breakthroughs that the great minds expect. Yale psychologist Paul Bloom expects to see a hard science of human morality emerge. The University of Chicago's Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi cheerfully speculates about genetically engineering better human beings, while the Santa Fe Institute's Stuart Kauffman sees new biological insights changing our rigidly mechanistic notions about the chemistry and physics underlying life processes. Each essay is just about the right length to pace a mint julep and just about as tasty. The universe! What a concept! Roger Downey

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