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One of the most popular social thinkers of our time, Jeremy Rifkin is the bestselling author of The European Dream, The Hydrogen Economy, The Age of Access, The Biotech Century, and The End of Work. A fellow at the Wharton School's Executive Education Program, he is president of The Foundation on Economic Trends in Bethesda, MD.
We are poised on the brink of a revolution of unparalleled real-life impact, argues Rifkin in this impassioned, erudite and well-reasoned study. Already, recombinant DNA techniques, computer gene-mapping and the globalization of commerce have begun to reshape life: the cloning of mammals for inexpensive pharmaceuticals is but one example. Though he does not dispute the promised benefits of biotechnology, Rifkin, president of the Foundation on Economic Trends and author of The End of Work and many other trend-tracking books, warns that we must closely consider its possible (and often little-publicized) negative consequences. A technology that can find genetic sources of disease, for example, can also lead to widespread acceptance of eugenic practices; techniques for genetically altering crops and animals to improve food sources could just as easily be used to create customized biological weapons. ("Scientists say they may be able to clone selective toxins to eliminate specific racial or ethnic groups whose genotypical makeup predispose them to certain disease patterns," Rifkin warns.) Biotechnology has the capacity to deplete, rather than enhance, Earth's gene pool and irreparably damage ecological balance, according to Rifkin, and it may transform our conceptions of nature and of life itself. Just as the Industrial Revolution caused unexpected problems such as depletion of natural resources, overpopulation, economic injustice and pollution, so the Biotech Revolution will inevitably cause problems we cannot yet imagine, Rifkin contends, especially if we fail to educate ourselves about the nature of biotechnology and neglect to make careful decisions about how it should best be used. This wide-ranging and deeply intelligent analysis is an excellent first step. 50,000 first printing; author tour. (Mar.)