240 pages, illustrations
We Are Amphibians tells the fascinating story of two brothers who changed the way we think about the future of our species. As a pioneering biologist and conservationist, Julian Huxley helped advance the "modern synthesis" in evolutionary biology and played a pivotal role in founding UNESCO and the World Wildlife Fund. His argument that we must accept responsibility for our future evolution as a species has attracted a growing number of scientists and intellectuals who embrace the concept of Transhumanism that he first outlined in the 1950s. Although Aldous Huxley is most widely known for his dystopian novel Brave New World, his writings on religion, ecology, and human consciousness were powerful catalysts for the environmental and human potential movements that grew rapidly in the second half of the twentieth century.
While they often disagreed about the role of science and technology in human progress, Julian and Aldous Huxley both believed that the future of our species depends on a saner set of relations with each other and with our environment. Their common concern for ecology has given their ideas about the future of Homo sapiens an enduring resonance in the twenty-first century. The amphibian metaphor that both brothers used to describe humanity highlights not only the complexity and mutability of our species but also our ecologically precarious situation.
"This is a remarkably informed and engaging intellectual biography of two famous brothers, who together formed the yin and yang of the modern evolutionary world view. The Huxleys argued over the big, important issues, and R.S. Deese is an excellent guide to what they discovered as scientist and artist."
– Donald Worster, author of A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir
"This magnificent book offers the reader an intellectual feast, exploring the thought of two great minds of the twentieth century as they sought to articulate a more humane vision of progress. From their contrasting – but also remarkably complementary – perspectives, the Huxley brothers grappled with fundamental questions of the modern era: the human place in nature, the role of evolution in shaping Homo sapiens (as well as the project of manipulating that evolutionary process through biotechnology), the ecological threats and cultural dehumanization brought on by industrial economies, the tension between state power and individual agency, the imperatives of political and cultural internationalism, the relation between scientific truth and religious truth, and humankind's dual nature, suspended between the material and spiritual/symbolic realms. R.S. Deese lays out the thought of the Huxley brothers on these issues with a combination of deep scholarship, wide-ranging expertise, insightful analysis, and wonderful literary flair. This is a powerful and original book about vitally important topics – and what's more, it is an absolute pleasure to read."
– Michael Bess, Chancellor's Professor of History and Professor of European Studies at Vanderbilt University
"The importance and excitement of We Are Amphibians lies in its positive engagement with utopian visions. As R.S. Deese notes, these have been rendered impossible or completely suspect by much of both contemporary political theory and postmodern philosophy. The author also links this positive vision to a particularly acute contemporary problem: ecological crisis. This makes the work not only refreshing, but also eminently relevant and timely."
– Jeffrey J. Kripal, J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Religious Studies at Rice University
"We Are Amphibians contains fresh and brilliant insights into the role the Huxley brothers played in the development of our thinking about environmentalism, social planning, and religion in the twentieth century. As someone who just finished writing a book about Aldous Huxley, I was pleasantly surprised by how much of the material I found to be new and little known. For example, I had never come across the wonderful vignette at the opening of chapter 1 in which Aldous vomits in Julian's top hat in the presence of the Prince of Wales."
– Don Lattin, author of The Harvard Psychedelic Club and Distilled Spirits: Getting High, Then Sober, with a Famous Writer, a Forgotten Philosopher, and a Hopeless Drunk
List of Illustrations
Introduction: “The question of questions for mankind”
1. Late Victorians
2. Twilight of Utopias
3. Spiritual Biology
4. Ape and Essence
5. We Are Amphibians
Epilogue: The Future of Our Species
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R. S. Deese teaches history at Boston University. His work has been published in AGNI, Endeavour, Aldous Huxley Annual, MungBeing, and Berkeley Poetry Review.