The author evaluates the consequences of the application of scientific knowledge to all aspects of human affairs, particularly the sphere of social problems.
In this latest collection of essays which grew out of lectures before the Institute for the Study of Science in Human Affairs of Columbia University, Dubos writes like a "despairing optimist" - an optimist because he believes that optimism is essential for action, and despairing because he sees experimental science used for purposes which are the "epitome of human folly" and which are presently leading to the degradation of the quality of human life. These words, heard increasingly often, are uttered here with Dubos' customary eloquence. In the six essays he examines past prophets of progress or doom, the varied courses and interrelationships of science and technology and their equation with power, and the particular history of the 19th century that has led to advances in the rate of production of things but retreats in man's spiritual or contemplative existence. Dubos feels strongly that man is still capable of changing the direction of society; he suggests areas for research such as early development in infancy, ecological studies, and the like: Science must become "mission-oriented" if man is to survive and make the best use of his genetic endowment as his string of historical references makes clear. Many of his ideas are not new, but few spokesmen for today's civilization in the West can express problems of ultimate importance with such clarity and brilliance. (Kirkus Reviews)