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The Thanatonauts — Tourists of Death

The Thanatonauts — Tourists of Death

Publicado el 3, feb., 2024 Actualizado 3, feb., 2024 Cultura
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The Thanatonauts — Tourists of Death

What would the world be like if we could unravel the mysteries of death? What would happen if science explained everything? This is explored in Bernard Werber’s book “The Thanatonauts,” published in 1994 by Le Livre de Poche.

While humanity has explored all the lands, and oceans, and even ventured into space, death is seen as a new territory to explore 

that no one has ever thought of.

A doctor, Michael Pinson, and a biologist, Raoul Razorbak, childhood friends, embark on a mission to explore the Ultimate Continent, the afterlife, to map and explain it. This mission appears to them, as it does to us, from the outset as a formidable quest filled with discoveries to seize; however, the outcome will be different. While humanity has explored all the lands, and oceans, and even ventured into space, death is seen as a new territory to explore that no one has ever thought of.

Throughout the novel, a small team of explorers of the Ultimate Continent forms, calling themselves thanatonauts and creating the field of thanatonautic. They gradually lead us to the discovery of a new world.

Realism in the story and the author’s research

It is sublime to note the level of research the author has undertaken to connect various elements and make the facts appear logical. Taking an objective standpoint, religion is mentioned without a preference for any particular one. According to the novel’s story, all religions seem to have their own interpretations of death, explaining the same concepts but with different metaphors. This includes not only current religions but also ancient ones, such as the beliefs of the Egyptian empire. What the explorers discover aligns with mystical perspectives while being somewhat explainable from a scientific point of view — an astronomer is among their team.


The division of the book is quite interesting; instead of traditional chapters, it is an assembly of sections. A section may sometimes be just a short paragraph or occupy a few pages, but they are never very long. This division provides an intriguing pace to the story.

  1. First, there are sections narrating the story itself, where the main character, Dr. Michael Pinson, recounts the events and his perspectives in the first person.

  2. The main character’s sidekick, biologist Raoul Razorbak, is equally interested in the science of death due to his father, a scientist who delved into the subject. His father’s suicide when he was a child further motivated Raoul’s fascination with death. Excerpts from his father’s writings also serve as sections in the book.

  3. There are also ‘History Manual’ sections that relate excerpts of objective information that would be in history manuals, probably in the future, long after the events recounted by Michael.

  4. Short texts presenting legends from various mythologies throughout the ages and continents related to death are often linked to the events described by Michael.

  5. Throughout the novel, there are also brief police profiles for key characters, presenting an overview related to thanatonautic. At the end of the novel, we only learn who the authors of these profiles are.

Death, initially perceived as a mystery and something intimidating, will, throughout the novel, become something banal. 

Philosophical exploration of death

The book explores the question both spiritually and scientifically, blending these two elements exceptionally. It also raises crucial ethical questions as the discoveries of the thanatonauts are not without consequences. Before reaching the culmination of their research, many subjects will die, and initially, Michael Pinson feels like a murderer. Although the subjects are voluntary prisoners, one may wonder if killing in the name of science is acceptable.

Death, initially perceived as a mystery and something intimidating, will, throughout the novel, become something banal. The team will be able to make successful and effortless round trips between our world and the world of the dead. It will even become democratized and accessible to almost everyone at a certain point. Stripping death of all its notoriety, this second world becomes just another continent — some will visit it as one would visit any touristic destination.

“The Thanatonauts” offers a profound reflection on the nature of death, transforming a once feared mystery into an explored, demystified continent, and ultimately integrating it into our understanding of human existence. Perhaps sometimes certain things should remain mysterious and never be unraveled. How far will human curiosity go? This captivating novel invites readers to rethink their relationship with death and consider the ethical implications of scientific exploration into the unknown.

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