On June 30, 1908, a mysterious explosion erupted in the skies over a vast woodland area of Siberia. Known as the Tunguska Event, it has been a source of wild conjecture over the past century, attributed to causes ranging from meteors to a small black hole to antimatter. In this imaginative book, Michael Hampe sets four fictional men based on real-life scholars—a physicist (Günter Hasinger and Steven Weinberg), a philosopher (Paul Feyerabend), a biologist (Adolf Portmann), and a mathematician (Alfred North Whitehead)—adrift on the open ocean, in a dense fog, to discuss what they think happened. The result is a playful and highly illuminating exploration of the definition of nature, mankind’s role within it, and what its end might be.
Tunguska, Or the End of Nature uses its four-man setup to tackle some of today’s burning issues—such as climate change, environmental destruction, and resource management—from a diverse range of perspectives. With a kind of foreboding, it asks what the world was like, and will be like, without us, whether we are negligible and the universe random, whether nature can truly be explained, whether it is good or evil, or whether nature is simply a thought we think. This is a profoundly unique work, a thrillingly interdisciplinary piece of scholarly literature that probes the mysteries of nature and humans alike.
Michael Hampe is professor of philosophy in the department of humanities, social, and political sciences at the ETH Zürich. He is the author of many books, including
The Perfect Life: Four Meditations on Happiness.
Michael Winkler is professor emeritus of German studies at Rice University. He has translated many books, including Uwe Steiner’s
Walter Benjamin: An Introduction to His Work and Thought, also published by the University of Chicago Press.
“A four-act dialogue of the dead that virtuosically renews the tradition of this genre spanning from Lucian to Paul Valéry.”
— Die Zeit, on the German edition
“Hampe . . . falls back on the literary tradition of dialogues between the dead—and with finesse, for precisely the strangeness of the otherworldly location where the dead men meet—an otherwise obvious setting for the genre—ushers in the debates over how ‘natural,’ ‘nature,’ and its ‘laws’ should actually be understood. . . . How and whether such a history can be told is admittedly written in the stars. The question may be too large, but it is one of those encountered when dealing with the contours of a demonstrable concept of nature. One can become well acquainted with them in Hampe’s book without having to worry about daunting philosophical terminology.”
— Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, on the German edition
“It’s no coincidence that Paul Feyerabend has the last word in the clever, vividly written, and humorously staged dialogues. His ideas and arguments, Hampe suggests, could advance modern debates on climate change or ecological destruction. Wouldn’t that be nice!”
— Neue Zürcher Zeitung, on the German edition
"The book will interest green thinkers, intellectuals, and those interested in debate about Nature and wilderness."