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The Precipice Reviews

The Precipice by Toby Ord

The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity

Toby Ord

4.00 out of 5

3 reviews

Imprint: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publication date: 5 Mar 2020
ISBN: 9781526600219

The Precipice is a landmark book that provides a new way of thinking about our time.

4 stars out of 5
Bryan Appleyard
8 Mar 2020

"as the title of this book proclaims, we are standing on a precipice where no humans have stood before."

This is a dense and often thrillingly written book. I am sceptical of the Ord/Parfit moral philosophy, and I doubt that it can redirect humanity away from its self-destructive ways. But if this is, indeed, a precipice, at least this time we know it is — no humans sat around pondering extinction when Mount Toba erupted 75,000 years ago, though it was a real possibility. We know either too much or not quite enough. Soon enough we will know the difference.


4 stars out of 5
7 Mar 2020

"The Precipice is a powerful book, written with a philosopher’s eye for counterarguments"

The challenges are obvious. We can’t learn via trial and error how to avoid risks that by definition can only happen once; and it’s hard to coordinate billions of people in hundreds of nations into doing things that will cost them directly and benefit them only indirectly. Ord’s prescriptions for how to meet those challenges are at times (perhaps unavoidably) woolly; he talks often about prudence and caution, but exactly how this translates to global action is unclear...

Still, The Precipice is a powerful book, written with a philosopher’s eye for counterarguments so that he can meet them in advance. And Ord’s love for humanity and hope for its future is infectious, as is his horrified wonder at how close we have come to destroying it.

4 stars out of 5
5 Mar 2020

"Let us hope this book is not quite so timely as it feels"

The Precipice, boldly dedicated to the 100 billion people before us, the seven billion alive and “the trillions to come, whose existence lies in the balance”, addresses nothing less than the fundamental threats to humanity itself. It is clearly written, approachable and concise for a work tackling such an immense subject, since Ord has confined all subsidiary questions to extensive footnotes and appendices. He begins by setting out “the stakes”, saying that “we live at a time uniquely important to humanity’s future”, dubbing our era the Precipice, as the time of high risk of destroying ourselves.