cover image A Many-Colored Glass: Reflections on the Place of Life in the Universe

A Many-Colored Glass: Reflections on the Place of Life in the Universe

Freeman J. Dyson, . . Univ. of Virginia, $21.95 (162pp) ISBN 978-0-8139-2663-6

Physicist Dyson, now retired from Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, attempts too much in this brief volume. He addresses three themes: “the human and ethical consequences of biotechnology”; “the place of life in the universe”; and the “implications of biology for philosophy and religion.” The seven short chapters consist of recent speeches that are not particularly well linked. Unlike some of his earlier works (e.g., The Scientist as Rebel ), which dazzle the reader with insight and make intellectual connections across a wide array of subjects, this volume is somewhat quirky and superficial. A self-professed heretic, Dyson argues that “the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated,” but his analysis is far from compelling. In proposing a simple way to prospect for life in the universe, he theorizes that herbivores and carnivores may be present on objects in the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud, and may be constantly migrating from object to object. Dyson is most interesting when he defines “theofiction,” a genre by writers such as Olaf Stapledon and Octavia Butler, that arises from science fiction but where the vision “is primarily religious rather than scientific.” But even here, he falls short of his previous high standard. (Aug.)