Book Review: Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever, by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman
written by: cra8051
• edited by: lrohner
• updated: 6/24/2011
The authors say this book is intended as a reference volume on longevity, not a medical manual. The purpose of the work is best summarized by a quote from Woody Allen that opens Chapter One: “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve immortality through not dying."
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Ray Kurzweil developed the first print to speech reading machine for the blind along with a host of other technological innovations including the flat-bed scanner, a music synthesizer that could emulate a grand piano and the first omni-font optical character system.Terry Grossman is a longevity expert and directs the Frontier Medical Institute in Denver, Colorado. Together they bring an awesome perspective on what it might take to extend the life span until medical research can solve the full secrets of longevity.
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Design of the Book
After several chapters covering current and near-future expected developments in biology, information science and technology that will impact health and longevity, successive chapters describe various elements that can extend the life span. Chapter Five goes into carbohydrates and the impact glycemic load has on health. Chapter Six discusses the effect the Western diet, which is heavily weighted to an imbalance in the ratio of omega-6 over omega-3 fatty acid on health, particularly heart disease. Each successive chapter takes up one topic in the same manner. Fantastic Voyage talks about weight, sugar, arterial inflammation, and similar items. Then the content moves on to advice about preventing diseases such as coronary failures and cancer. Between the major health problems each author alternates in presenting their own personal program for reducing risks and improve the life span.
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Numerous critics attacked the views espoused in Fantastic Voyage, both on the possibilities of unlimited longevity and in particular the aggressive supplementation recommended by Kurzweil and Grossman. James Randi, who has made a career of debunking paranormal and pseudoscientific claims, hosts a forum on The James Randi Educational Foundation. There is a lengthy attack on the forum in which the commentator likens the authors to quacks and claims they are promoting pseudoscience. Plenty of medical thinking in the past has viewed vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplementation as unproven, summed up in the popular statement “Americans have the most expensive urine in the world." In other words, much of what we may take (that does not come with a label from a pharmaceutical company) is unnecessary if we would just eat a balanced diet. People like Kurzweil and Grossman counter that with sure knowledge that our food production sources are not the nutritious places they were 100 to 200 years ago. Food processing methods now, in order to preserve foods for as long as years, robs nutritive value at the cost of chemical additives, while the soil has been depleted of many natural nutrients.
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The authors base much of their hopes on nanotechnological medicine, predicting lengthy extensions of life from these developments may be available in two decades. Whether or not they are overly optimistic, this reviewer found enough helpful information regarding ways to decrease wear and tear on the body, even if not able to take the 250 supplements Kurzweil consumes a day. The book is recommended as a fascinating read and insight into a possible future, even if following some of the advice seems impractical.
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Kurzweil, Ray, and Grossman, Terry. Fantastic Voyage. (New York: Rodale, 2004). 452pp. incl. index