Art and Architecture, History, History and Philosophy of Science, Philosophy, Reviews

Review: Riskin, Genesis Redux

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Jessica Riskin’s Genesis Redux: Essays in the History and Philosophy of Artificial Life was recently given a great review by science fiction writer Greg Bear in Nature. Riskin’s book collects seventeen essays from a conference of distinguished scholars in several fields who bring a historical perspective to this most contemporary of scientific topics. And as Bear notes in his review, the result is a particularly comprehensive treatment of the history of artificial life. Bear writes:

The strength of Genesis Redux lies in its scholarship and range of topics. Clockworks, mechanical toys and their influence on biological concepts are presented in fascinating detail. Joan Landes introduces us to the Hoffmanesque works of Jacques de Vaucanson’s feminine flautist and (excreting) duck, and to the flayed, preserved and posed cadavers, the écorchés, of Jean-Honoré Fragonard: there is a dancing fetus and a very naked man staring in horror, jawbone in hand. Landes delivers a lively analysis of our reactions to the abject and uncanny, the frisson so beloved by fans of Dr Frankenstein.

The review continues:

Genesis Redux takes the time to shed light on areas I would not naturally consider, and thus enlightens and expands the topic. Its cautious perspective—the enthusiasms of the past considered in the sober light of history—provides a useful counterpoint to [other books on the subject].

See the rest of the article on the Nature website.