Sunday, September 6, 2015

Gilgamesh in the 21st Century

Gilgamesh in the 21st Century: A Personal Quest to Understand Mortality by Bracken, Paul   Kindle Edition.

There is a contemporary movement known as “Terror Management Therapy” which is catching the attention of many people in the early 21st century.  The mindset behind TMT awareness is not new.  Humankind has always wondered and worried about the fact that life leads to death.
       Paul Bracken, the author of Gilgamesh in the 21st Century – A Personal Quest to understand Mortality uses events and characters from the third millennium BCE to make the point that the appearance of death is rarely hailed with enthusiasm, and throughout the ages people have sought to cheat nature of her rightful due, which is not to be burdened with ageing and no longer productive organisms. 

However, humans are not quite as straightforward as that.  The power and creative potential of our minds argues that we could well wish to continue living far beyond our three-score-years-and-ten.  In our well-fed and medically supported western society we could probably notch that up to four-score-years-and-ten and, if we take notice of what Bracken shows us, we could think seriously of going even further before very long.
          Bracken says:  I invite the reader to think about death, not out of any desire to be morbid, but rather because it opens the door to a lot of interesting science, and because our mortality is often what prompts us to contemplate the grander mysteries of life.

Taking this troubling subject into firm and scholarly (although light) hands, Paul Bracken presents an intriguing and often amusing account of the many attitudes which people adopt on the subject of human mortality.   Founded both on personal experience as a scientist, and on meticulous research which must have kept him occupied for a number of years, together with the frequent involvement of his dad, Jim, and Granddad Waine,  Bracken opens the doors into an often highly enjoyable library of thought and opinion about mortality.

He gives the reader a great deal to think about, from the first appearance of rock paintings to the redesigning of the human body, but he does not become an advocate for any one particular attitude, except that he does point out that the consolations of religion are not founded in the science we know.  He also makes very clear his deep admiration of both Carl Sagan, and the Star Trek saga, from which he frequently quotes.  

Perhaps Bracken’s own position appears at the end of his penultimate chapter, just before he quotes from Eliot’s Little Gidding:

It is, after all, the only home that humanity has ever known, so if it’s heaven we’re after, we’ll have to find it on Earth. It also means that there are no second chances. If we only get one shot at life, then we need to be extra careful not to waste it.

It’s a sensible position to take and after reading this very well-written and attractive book on a difficult topic, one feels that the situation after all is not desperate and a busy and contented life is a very good thing. Highly recommended to readers in a wide range of genres.
***** 5 Stars
Reviewed by Judith Rook


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