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Publisher's Summary

This urgent and eye-opening book makes the case that protecting humanity's future is the central challenge of our time.

If all goes well, human history is just beginning. Our species could survive for billions of years - enough time to end disease, poverty, and injustice, and to flourish in ways unimaginable today. But this vast future is at risk. With the advent of nuclear weapons, humanity entered a new age, where we face existential catastrophes - those from which we could never come back. Since then, these dangers have only multiplied, from climate change to engineered pathogens and artificial intelligence. If we do not act fast to reach a place of safety, it will soon be too late.

Drawing on over a decade of research, The Precipice explores the cutting-edge science behind the risks we face. It puts them in the context of the greater story of humanity: showing how ending these risks is among the most pressing moral issues of our time. And it points the way forward, to the actions and strategies that can safeguard humanity.

An Oxford philosopher committed to putting ideas into action, Toby Ord has advised the US National Intelligence Council, the UK Prime Minister's Office, and the World Bank on the biggest questions facing humanity. In The Precipice, he offers a startling reassessment of human history, the future we are failing to protect, and the steps we must take to ensure that our generation is not the last. 

©2020 Toby Ord (P)2020 Recorded Books

What listeners say about The Precipice

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

The 80000hours website is better

TLDR; First of all, it should've been 3 chapters instead of 14. Second, if you like statistics and probably this book is for you. If not, just read the 80000hours website because it has better resources and you can skip the boring parts.

My reasoning for giving it 4 stars:
The author has great advice and there is no dough about it. But let's take the example of climate change.
If you take a city that is in extreme poverty, how do you transform that city into a modern one without the downsides of a modem society... so without contributing to climate change in the process. All cities, big or small, struggle with this.
If you think about it, even making solar panels (green tech) contributes a little to climate change when making the components, etc.
There are many more topics besides climate change, so you can imagine whatever example you want, even AI misalignment if you like.
But with that example in mind, my point is... I get it! Things are bad and modern society is a "work in progress" mess to say the least. We can do better on all fronts.
So, I would've loved a book that talks about solutions and the 80000hours website has super awesome advice on that for free.

13 people found this helpful

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Good summary of long-term risks

Good overview and introduction to long-term risks facing humanity. It balances accurate summaries of the problem with optimistic and hopeful outlooks for the future, as well as things readers can do to improve the likelihood that the future is positive.

4 people found this helpful

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Future of hamanity

Such a wonderful thought provoking book, I am recommending it to everyone I know and don’t know - we as humans need to focus more on what actions mean for tomorrow. Toby Ord provides the science, history, and facts to steer us on a path to be better!

2 people found this helpful

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A necessary book/audio book

We need to know where we are heading in our 200,000 years journey. This book is the answer to our question regarding what would happen to humanity if we continue negligence in our affairs. Read it and pass it to your loved ones. Better to know and take action to save humanity. It’s a moral obligation to spread wisdom.

2 people found this helpful

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Not practical and too idealistic

I was expecting this book to discuss tangible solutions and ideas that can be grasped mentally. Instead, it was a whole lot of hopeless romantic ideas and plans based on "scientific" predictions for millions of years in the future. How can anyone take this book seriously if that is the approach the author chose to take? This type of conversation happens all the time. From middle school to 30 years old. Then you see the world as what it is and stop dreaming. This book actually made me lose hope in humanities ability to prevent extinction (caused by ourselves). With goals so unattainable, why would anyone try?

1 person found this helpful

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Inspiring, important, and well written book

Exceptional book about an issue that has an excellent case for being the most important topic of our times. I can't recommend it highly enough.

1 person found this helpful

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A Rare Find

This is one of those rare kinds of book that will shift your perspective on how you view the world, and hopefully, shift your behavior as well. A must read for those who believe there is great purpose to be found in our lives.

1 person found this helpful

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Been waiting for this my whole life

Very good, realistic and hopeful. It was a great inspiration for me to actually do something about these big and very important problems.

1 person found this helpful

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Excellent in every way

I am astounded at the scope of this book. Ord explains concepts and arguments cogently in ways that are easy to understand, and is circumspect in taking us through the process of understanding existential risk, evaluating the myriad ways in which we create risks for ourselves, unpacking the probabilities of risks and what they mean for us, detailing potential solutions, and giving us all actions we can take to reduce existential risk. He does a wonderful job of balancing the need for careful, rational reflection of existential risk with the true importance and urgency that the issue has beyond the numbers. The cherry on top is the final part, where he lays out the future we may be able to have, if only we can find a way to survive today. I’ve read my fair share of far future science fiction, but this part still mesmerized me. The combination and comparison of singular human experiences with the vicissitudes of time, space, and experience was very effective, The fact that such a future has even the slightest glimmer of hope of being a true reality—and not just fanciful science fiction—is what lends that section, and the book as a whole, its magic. I hope it’s not premature or hyperbole to say this, but I think Toby Ord and others like him may have had or will have an impact similar in magnitude and importance to people such as Vasili Arkhipov, Stanislav Petrov, and Norman Borlaug. Thank you Toby Ord for your contribution to humanity and for giving us all hope.

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Outstanding book on a critical topic

I'm not gonna lie... If you don't want to be disturbed, maybe even a little depressed, beware of this book. Its subject matter isn't exactly cheerful. And lets be honest, humanity is facing multiple potential existinction level threats, many of which are completely manmade, in the very near future. Other possible extinction threats are not driven by human action, though the risk may be mitigated with targeted and thoughtful action right now, before those threats can become imminent.

Regardless of the source of our possible demise, mankind is in the unique position to understand, to act, or to stick our heads in the proverbial sand and hope the Big Scary just goes away... Which is unlikely.

Toby Ord was at least prescient and cognizant enough of humanity's precarious position on the precipice of complete annihilation to analyze the statistical probability of each way we could feasibly kill ourselves off. I don't want to give it away, but let's just say his estimate of this probability in the next 100 years is astonishing... And dreadful.

So, you should read this book. If you have children or want to, read this book. If you merely care about mankind's future, read this book. Then take what you learn and put some effort towards preventing these contingencies. Please.

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  • H
  • 03-31-20

If you just read one book this year make it this.

This is an excellent book for anyone interested in philosophy, ethics, and effective altruism. very well written and carefully argued. A must read.

2 people found this helpful

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  • john
  • 08-04-21

Broad and deep assessment of existential risks

Excellent analysis and thorough understanding of megatrends. Unusual in appraising each with statistical rigour leading to recommendations and actions we should take.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 07-04-21

Existential Risk

Interesting but repetitive, interesting but repetitive, interesting but repetitive. This is the format of the book.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 03-09-21

Hope for humanity

Worth a couple of careful listens and very thought provoking. If we can survive our own stupidity we might enjoy the future. Very good and nicely narrated too.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Colin
  • 01-27-21

Most of this I considered a given anyway.

Risk vs impact analysis
We should focus more on global disasters but we won't because we think in the short term.

There really wasn't much I this book if you've considered these ideas before.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Lauren Blunt
  • 09-09-20

Very insightful

I would definitely recommend this book. Really eye opening and insightful. Something everyone should read.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Ahmet
  • 05-21-20

ethics, technology and our future

Loved how author structured the book. you may say "wow" while listening about very detailed thoughts and ideas about our future.

1 person found this helpful

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  • David Martin
  • 03-23-22

Not worth reading

I couldn't detect any original arguments or insights, and overall I found it very boring. It does provide a few interesting statistical tidbits concerning various existential risks, but that's about it. The amount of content here would be good for a blog post, but not a whole book. The monotone narration doesn't help.

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  • Johan Badenhorst
  • 11-27-21

Brilliant

Brilliantly researched, written and read. So good that the author was allowed to narrate his own work as it enhances the sense of authenticity and reveals some of the passion that fuelled the author to invest so much into the subject matter. The scope is grand and good and hopefully will contribute to alerting humanity to big risk, but also to big responsibility and opportunity. Highly recommended.

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  • JD
  • 11-18-21

Mouth noise

One of those cases where a professional voice actor really would have been a good idea. If you are sensitive to mouth noise this is difficult to listen to. Some very interesting ideas, and a good introduction to existential risk studies for those unfamiliar with the field.

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  • Luke Freeman
  • 03-29-20

Engaging guide to humanity's future survival

How will our species survive and thrive?

This is one of my favourite non-fiction reads to date. I love how Toby Ord leaves hype behind and uses sound reasoning to lay out the case for existential risk reduction. He has very strong arguments and a enjoyable writing style. He makes the case that existential risks are some of the the most important and neglected problems we face.

He covers major risks from nuclear and biological weapons to climate change, pandemics, artificial intelligence, asteroid impacts, and more.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Jackson
  • 03-09-21

facinating thesis but a touch repetitive

fascinating an important topic, thoroughly explored and well told, but the last few chapters were at times a bit repetitive. well worth a listen though and definitely worth acting on!

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  • alex hinchliffe
  • 01-19-21

very thought provoking

Well worth the read, albeit quite repetitive. Opens up new ways of thinking about humanity and our potential. highly recommended.

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  • jordan
  • 01-04-21

Best book of 2020

An important message. Clearly written. Just the right level of detail.

Changed my prior beliefs on the probability of various existential risks.

Painted a picture for how unaligned AI can be dangerous to humanities future.

Forced me to contemplate the vastness of human potential.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • MR R S BROOKES
  • 10-01-20

Not much factual content

I felt like it was a bit of a philosophical attempt to feel good about things without much justification. The wild sci fi speculation about the future towards the end also missed the mark for me.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-25-20

A brilliantly crafted view of our potential

This author is capable of communicating the some very complex information in the most compelling way. I am equally trepidatious and hopeful of what the future holds.