4x4th Estate: What makes us human?

How to Make a Human Being by Christopher Potter


Sistine ChapelWhat are we made of? What does it mean to be conscious? Are we merely a mingling of chemicals, expertly working through scientific processes to create the illusion of a soul? In this brilliantly paradoxical book, Christopher Potter explores the mystery that our existence poses and puts science’s best explanations to the test. But for Potter, the scientific explanation for why we are what we are is only half the story. Combining his own musings with those of poets, philosophers and scientists, Potter finds a new definition for what makes a human. If the longer days have given you more to time to ponder your existence, How to Make a Human Being offers the perfect accompaniment to your existential crisis, guiding you through the most intimidating questions that continue to confound philosophers.

The Bees by Laline Paull

The Bees

Flora 717 with her black and yellow coat, wings, and poisonous sting may not look like one of us but the problems she encounters in her hive are uncannily familiar. Laline Paull’s debut novel The Bees looks at life on the bottom rung of society’s ladder. As the novel progresses Flora works her way up to the Queen’s inner circle, mixing with suspicious and sycophantic High Priestesses and encountering the terrifying fertility police. The atmosphere is exhilarating as readers immerse themselves in an entirely new world, part Elizabethan court, part Orwellian nightmare. As Flora struggles to survive the cut-throat environment, she is faced with the kind of dilemma many of us will face in our lives: should she stay safe and preserve the status quo, or break away in search of her own happiness?

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Joan Didion and family

 In this heart-wrenching true story, Joan Didion records her experience witnessing her daughter and then her husband fall unexpectedly and disastrously ill. In December 2003, Didion’s daughter Quintana seemed to have come down with flu, but her condition rapidly worsened to the point of being placed on a life support machine in an induced coma. Whilst Didion and her husband, Gregory Dunne, waited anxiously for Quintana to recover, Gregory suffered a fatal coronary. It was another four weeks before Quintana pulled through and was discharged from hospital, only to be rushed back two months later after collapsing in LA airport due to a massive hematoma. The Year of Magical Thinking is a hauntingly poignant book on bereavement, offering an example of hope and strength in the face of despair. This book is truly a fantastic example of what it means to be human in its exploration of the depths of emotion.

Every Single Minute by Hugo Hamilton

Every Single Minute

Hugo Hamilton is also preoccupied by the feelings surrounding death and illness, but also how memories of what’s passed can cloud our futures. The seemingly indomitable figure of Una is summoned by the narrator as he recounts their trip to Berlin while Una was in the final stages of cancer. Brought face to face with her mortality, Una realises the effect her younger brother’s unexpected death had on her own life decisions. This heartfelt portrait of a woman struggling to come to terms with the past is witty and tender as Una discovers the joys and downright bizarreness of what it means to be alive. Based on the true story of Hamilton’s visit to Berlin with the novelist Nuala O’Faolain, the sense of pathos is very real, while no time is wasted on sentimentality. A wonderfully poetical novel full of honesty and sincerity.

Words by Kristina Hill. 

Subscribe to the 4th Estate podcast.

To find out more about our books, events and competitions, click here to sign up to our newsletter.

If you enjoyed this, try:

Comments are closed.