An Exploration Of The Meaning Of Death And Its Profound Implications About The Meaning Of Life
In the winter of 1997, biologist and critically acclaimed science writer Tyler Volk began suffering from mysterious physical ailments that would bring him face to face with his own mortality. This experience led him to explore what death means to us–and to discover that our mortality is, paradoxically, extraordinarily life affirming. In What Is Death? Volk shows how we deal with death psychologically and come to inner peace; how as a culture we find our funeral rituals a tremendous comfort and a revitalization of community; and how death evolved at the cellular level and stands as one of the most beautiful necessities in our biosphere. Here is death that is at once an end and a beginning, a source of dignity and a revelation, the basis of who we are as people and as a people.
What is Death?, March 14, 2002
Reviewer: A reader
This book examines death from a different vantage point. Obviously, nobody knows the facts about death. Yet, this book doesn't explore death from the traditional standpoint of individuals or beings, but rather explores it within context of biosphere. The author probes the meaning of death to help get a better understanding on the meaning of life. It's a fascinating approach.
Important to individuals and to the human species, April 6, 2002
Reviewer: Mary Ann Allison (Brooklyn, New York USA) - See all my reviews
Although beautifully written, "What is Death?" may be a challenging read for some because Tyler asks us to confront our mortality. The book is worth every second you spend with it.
Tyler presents information which is powerful and important to us as individuals. Equally important in this time when we are all confronted with the causes and effects of terrorism, Tyler presents important research about what all human beings do when confronted with mortality–which includes defending our worldviews more fiercely…
A scientist bravely confronts mortality, May 20, 2003
Reviewer: John Horgan (Garrison, NY USA) - See all my reviews
In an era when religion's malignancy is becoming increasingly apparent, we urgently need to be shown that spirituality is quite compatible with a rational, scientific, areligious worldview. This task has been taken on by some very good books recently, notably "The Problem of the Soul" by the philosopher Owen Flanagan and "The Sacred Depths of Nature" by the biologist Ursula Goodenough. Another excellent addition to this genre is "What Is Death?" by the biologist Tyler Volk. He begins his narrative on a personal note, describing how a near-death experience left him anxiously pondering his mortality. We then follow him as he explores death from many different perspectives-genetic, neurological, ecological, cultural-and eventually arrives at a better understanding of how vital death is to life. Particularly fascinating is Volk's discussion of recent research showing how death influences our thoughts and behavior even when we are not consciously thinking about it, often by making us cling more tightly to our beliefs. These findings obviously have tremendous relevance for understanding post-9/11 events. "What Is Death?" has not entirely dissolved my fear of mortality; I don't think any book could do that. But after reading it, I felt more sympathy with the lines that end Robinson Jeffers's great poem "Night": "A few centuries/Gone by, was none dared not to people/The darkness beyond the stars with harps and habitations./But now, dear is the truth. Life is grown sweeter and lonelier,/And death is no evil."
A Case for Gratitude, November 9, 2004
Reviewer: Don W. Fahrenbrink (Lakewood, CO USA) - See all my reviews
There is nothing morbid about this book. Tyler Volk's openness and sincerity about the sometimes difficult topic of death had just the opposite effect. My understanding of life, and my gratitude for it, was enhanced. - In just over 200-pages, Volk covers a lot of territory. In three parts, he sensitively explores what neurologically makes us a conscious self, warmly discusses cultural attitudes, and knowledgeably looks at how the myriad forms of death make biological life possible. - If you enjoy reading about the natural sciences or social-cultural topics, you will enjoy this book. Because I enjoy both, I had a great time. It brought to mind cell biologist Ursula Goodenough's "The Sacred Depths of Nature," which I also found edifying. - As the author of "What is Death?," Tyler Volk comes across graciously human and without pretense. Unlike an aloof scientist narrowly consumed with a field of interest, I experienced Volk as down to earth and someone who shares the foibles and joys of being alive. Like each of us, he also is trying to come to terms with his own life and death. Volk's honesty in relating some of his personal journey enhances this fine volume.
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