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Tweaking Cascio’s Futurist Bibliography

Friday, April 30th, 2010

At Fast Company, Jamais Cascio unveiled a short bibliography for the general reader on Futurist thinking.

Futures Thinking: A Bibliography

As you probably picked up from earlier entries in the Futures Thinking series, foresight work is intensely information-based. If you’re going to make grounded projections of future possibilities, you have understand both what has led us to the point we’re at today, and what kinds of issues seem to be shaping up as emerging drivers. A few pieces to trigger some creative thoughts can help, too.

As I suggested in Futures Thinking: Scanning the World, a good deal of the reading you’ll be doing will be in the form of websites and journals. This isn’t surprising; part of the service provided by foresight workers is sensitivity to early warnings of big changes. It will be tempting to focus on science and technology materials, in part because there tends to be an overlap between people interested in futures work and people interested in new tech toys, and in part because the pace and pattern of change is easier to see in science and technology than it is in many other realms. It’s not necessarily more “objective,” but it’s perceived as less ambiguous.

That was the introduction, you can read the rest here. Now on to Cascio’s recommendations:

Practice

These two books are good resources for understanding methodologies of futures work. Schwartz co-founded Global Business Network, and Johansen is a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute for the Future. (Disclosure: I’ve worked with Peter, and currently work with Bob.)

  • Art of the Long View, Peter Schwartz
  • Get There Early, Bob Johansen

History

Foresight is anticipatory history. These three books offer very different perspectives on how to think about the past — which, in turn, help to shape how we should think about the future. Polanyi is a classical theorist, looking at ideas and states; Zinn is a populist, looking at the lives of regular people; Diamond is an ecologist, looking at the intersection of culture and environment. I end up mixing these three approaches in my own work.

  • The Great Transformation, Karl Polanyi
  • A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn
  • Collapse, Jared Diamond

Analysis

Easily the largest section of my personal library, I could have made the list of Analysis books ten times longer. The ones I’ve picked here, however, offer for me a set of cogent insights into how we live with the tools we make. The ideal result from reading a book in this category should be an epiphany moment where you can see all sorts of links from the book’s ideas to other books/ideas you’ve encountered. All of these books gave me that kind of moment.

  • Smart Mobs, Howard Rheingold
  • The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs
  • Everyware, Adam Greenfield
  • Plan B, Lester Brown
  • Radical Evolution, Joel Garreau
  • Brave New War, John Robb
  • No Logo, Naomi Klein

Inspiration

The highest compliment I can give a science fiction book is that it’s “plausibly surreal” — it manages to feel like a relentless extrapolation from today even as it overwhelms with unexpected consequences of that extrapolation. I’ve read each of these are books multiple times, and I still get a giddy feeling of discovery every time.

  • Accelerando, Charlie Stross
  • Transmetropolitan series, Warren Ellis & Darrick Roberts
  • Holy Fire, Bruce Sterling
  • The Bohr Maker, Linda Nagata
  • Rainbows End, Vernor Vinge
  • Red Mars/Green Mars/Blue Mars trilogy, Kim Stanley Robinson

I am not familiar with all of these books. The Art of the Long View is considered to be a classic and I will give a very strong recommendation to Brave New War and Smart Mobs.

What would I add to this list?:

Practice:

Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision by Roberta Wohlstetter

The Next Two Hundred Years: A Scenario for America and the World by William Morle Brown and Herman Kahn

History:

From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present by Jacques Barzun

A History of Knowledge: Past, Present, and Future by Charles van Doren

Analysis:

Masks of the Universe: Changing Ideas on the Nature of the Cosmos by Edward Robert Harrison

Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge by Edward O. Wilson

Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century by Alvin Toffler

I’m not a frequent enough consumer of science fiction to have noteworthy recommendations for “Inspiration”. There are obvious authors who come to mind – Asimov, Dick, Heinlein, Gibson, Clarke – but I’ll leave it to readers here to nominate titles in the comments section.

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