For most of human history, religion provided a clear explanation of life and death. But in the late 19th and early 20th centuries new ideas — from psychiatry to evolution to Communism — seemed to suggest that our fate was now in our own hands. We would ourselves become God.
This is the theme of a remarkable new book by one of the world’s greatest living philosophers. It is a brilliant and frightening look at the problems and opportunities of a world coming to grips with humankind’s now solitary, unaided place in the universe. Gray takes two major examples: the belief that the science-backed Communism of the new USSR could reshape the planet, and the belief among a group of Edwardian intellectuals — popularized through mediums and automatic writing — that there was a non-religious form of life after death.