> Resources > Reviews | Readings

Reviews of books, articles, websites...maybe even the occasional movie or tv show...

The views offered below are entirely my own, of course, and my perspective ranges from serious consideration of a work's usefulness in aiding our thinking about future possibilities, to the entirely whimsical: reader beware. Where possible, a link to Amazon.com offers you the option of owning a copy yourself. Note: if the book or item title is highlighted in blue -- a hotlink in its own right -- then the book is currently out-of-print, and Amazon will assist you in finding a second-hand copy. Where you see the "buy from Amazon.com" link, the book or item is still currently available. Do be sure to save a tree and check to see if a digital edition exists!

Griffiths, Sian, ed. Predictions, 1999 (5 February 2003)

This book is subtitled, "Thirty Great Minds on the Future," and manages to be interesting despite being irretrievably wrong-headed in its approach to thinking about the future. Fortunately, several of the contributors point that out.

Its genesis was a series of interviews with the "great minds" (listed below) which were featured in The Times Higher Education Supplement, and "for this book all thirty were asked to supplement those original interviews with a prediction for the 21st century. Each was asked what scholarly breakthrough they would most welcome before the year 2100, and how it might impact on society." The interview/bios are for the most part longer than the "predictions," and an informative look at people who themselves helped shape the last fifty years of change. The "predictions" often aren't. Predictions, that is: some of them are hopes, some are commentaries on the present, and Stephen Jay Gould wrote a brilliant little piece on why prediction is impossible, "Unpredictable Patterns." Bravo, Stephen. Arthur C. Clarke commented that prediction is impossible and that he prefers to think of himself as an "extrapolator," but then goes on to name names and specify dates.



People profiled include: Chinua Achebe, French Anderson, Noam Chomsky, Arthur C. Clarke, Paul Davies, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Carl Djerassi, Andrea Dworkin, Umberto Eco, Francis Fukuyama, J.K. Galbraith, Daniel Goleman, Stephen Jay Gould, Susan Greenfield, Lynn Margulis, Don Norman, Paul Nurse, Steven Pinker, Sherwood Rowland, Amartya Sen, Elaine Showalter, Peter Singer, Dale Spender, Chris Stringer, Sherry Turkle, Kevin Warwick, James Watson, Steven Weinberg, and Slavoj Zizek.

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Winchester, Simon. The Map that Changed the World, 2000 (15 January 2003)

Wonderful micro-historical look at William Smith, who devised, researched, and drew the first stratigraphic geological map (of England). You will never look at landscape the same again: over every hill you will superimpose a three-dimensional framework slicing deeply into the soil and rock, a timeline of stacked strata that will make the Jurassic seem very much with us in the present. It is also an interesting window into the pivot point where the religious worldview swung into the secular. For futurists it has the added piquancy of watching the science of geology struggle through its birth, growth pains at the hands of dilettantes, until it finally attained the intellectual rigor -- not to mention honesty and responsibility -- that would allow it to claim to be a scientific discipline. It is a life cycle with which futures studies is well acquainted.

Winchester also wrote the wonderful and bizarre history of the Oxford English Dictionary, The Professor and the Madman (1998). If you love language, and the tracking of its ongoing transformation, this is an engrossing (and at times, appalling) book.

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Robinson, Kim Stanley. Vinland the Dream, and other Stories (sold in the USA as Remaking History and Other Stories), 2000 (6 February 2003)

Robinson, it could be argued, started slow but has grown into mastery. The Gold Coast Trilogy, while an interesting intellectual experiment, was hardly emotionally compelling. Red Mars - Blue Mars - Green Mars, his tour de force on Martian colonization, isboth compelling and intellectually satisfying, but suffers, especially in Green Mars, from a certain Dreiseresque exhaustiveness of detail. His short story collections, on the other hand, are nearly perfect (as is, come to think of it, Antarctica). Escape from Kathmandu, for example, is a hilarious set of four related stories that are closer to the "tall tale" genre than speculative fiction, and priceless. (By now you should be wondering if I am ever going to review the book at hand. Be at ease, your patience is nearly rewarded.)

Vinland the Dream/Remaking History might disappoint die-hard science fiction fans, for the stories range from ...

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Keys, David. Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origins of the Modern World, 1999 (7 February 2003)


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15 February 2003. Email IF.
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