Virus-free mosquitoes, resurrected dinosaurs, designer humans. Such is the power of the science of tomorrow. But this idea that we have only recently begun to manipulate the natural world is false. We've been meddling with nature since the last ice age. It's just that we're getting better at it – a lot better.
Drawing on decades of research, Beth Shapiro reveals the surprisingly long history of human intervention in evolution through hunting, domesticating, polluting, hybridizing, conserving and genetically modifying life on Earth. Looking ahead to the future, she casts aside the scaremonger myths on the dangers of interference, and outlines the true risks and incredible opportunities that new biotechnologies will offer us in the years ahead. Not only do they offer us the chance to improve our own lives, but they increase the likelihood that we will continue to live in a rich and biologically diverse world.
Beth Shapiro is a Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UC Santa Cruz. She has appeared on the BBC, National Geographic and Discovery, and written for the Financial Times and Observer. She is the author of the award-winning How to Clone a Mammoth.
"A brilliant combination of science, natural history, and first-person experience, Life as We Made It shows how our species has been manipulating nature for nearly as long as we've been around. Anyone who wants to better understand the future of life – human and otherwise – should read this book."
– Jennifer Doudna, winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
"For the past two decades, Beth Shapiro has pioneered using ancient DNA to understand the diversity of life. In Life as We Made It, her twin passions for cutting-edge science and natural history leap from every page. This book will entertain and challenge you to think in new ways about our role in the future of life on Earth."
– Neil Shubin, evolutionary biologist and author of Your Inner Fish
"Very few people write about the insane complexities and power of biology with greater clarity, insight and levity than Beth Shapiro."
– Adam Rutherford, author of A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived
"In this brilliant new book, biologist Beth Shapiro tells the incredible story of how we're remaking much of nature and lays out a thoughtful path for how we can survive and thrive by learning to more wisely apply our god-like powers."
– Jamie Metzl, author of Hacking Darwin
"Shapiro chronicles the many ways humans have influenced the evolutionary trajectories of other species, from prehistory through the present day. Tools like CRISPR are just the latest way we have shaped the life on this planet. She effectively makes the case that our use of evolution as a tool is ethically acceptable, if done carefully and with informed consent."
– Emma Marris, author of Wild Souls
"In an age when "technology" has become synonymous with the information kind, it is worth being reminded that other sorts are available. And with one of them people can, if they so choose, remake themselves."
– The Economist
"Throughout our existence, humans have been unconscious genetic engineers. In this excellent summary of the most exciting parts of 21st-century biology, Beth Shapiro shows how we have inadvertently shaped the natural world, producing extinctions and slowly altering domestic animals. Above all, she optimistically describes how we might be able to use our new conscious ability to engineer genomes to save species and deliberately change the world for the better."
– Professor Matthew Cobb, University of Manchester
"An engaging account of how our ancestors' actions, over tens of thousands of years, ended up modifying our genomes and those of countless other species, a thanksgiving for the beauty and bounty wrought by these changes, and a thoughtful, refreshingly optimistic anticipation of what is to come as we, one way or another, exert ever greater control over evolution."
– Austin Burt, professor of evolutionary genetics, Imperial College London
"[a] fun-filled survey [...] Shapiro's anecdotes are full of energy [...] Perfect for fans of Mary Roach, this is science writing with much to savour."
– Publishers Weekly
"Deeply thought-provoking [...] Around two to three decades ago the protests against genetically modified food types seemed warranted and necessary due to far too many unknowns. Now, with more precise genetic editing, examples such as Golden Rice discussed by Shapiro demonstrate that we are now in more nuanced times, and this is a topic that does need to be examined and more closely debated. Shapiro's book is timely and well worth reading."
– Simon Cocking, Irish Tech News
"The scientific study of ancient DNA preserved in extinct species and the possibility of de extinction make for truly fascinating reading. Employing just the right amount of paleontology, history, genomics, and archaeology, Shapiro warns that we stand on the precipice of fashioning a new, unnatural nature. The risk of messing up the future of other species and even the planet itself looms large."
"Shapiro takes readers on a succinct and compelling journey through historical events, inventions, and decisions that have forever changed the course of life on Earth [...] In what is perhaps the greatest accomplishment of Life as We Made It, Shapiro clearly articulates key questions whose answers will define how we think about and use the power we now yield [...] Shapiro offers readers a history lesson from which to pull both caution and inspiration. In doing so, she sets the table for a needed conversation about our lasting imprint on the tree of life. It is up to us to take a seat."
"Beth Shapiro's unmissable book [...] My advice is not to waste time on COP26, and read this book instead [...] She is a thoughtful academic [...] This book brings readers up to date, assessing the impact on research of the COVID-19 event and the appetite for adopting riskier technologies more quickly [...] Life as We Made It turns a potentially chilling threat into a promise – so long as those charged with the process are as far-seeing and practical as its author. That's the challenge upon which readers will be left reflecting."
"Beth Shapiro takes readers on a journey of scientific discovery, explaining how symbiotic relationships between humans and the environment around us have changed – but not always for the better [...]"