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The Ingenuity Gapby Thomas Homer-Dixon
Synopses & Reviews
"The most persuasive forecast of the 21st century I have seen." —E.O. Wilson, author of Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge and twice winner of a Pulitzer prize.
“Human beings have been smart enough to turn nature to their ends, generate vast wealth for themselves, and double their average life span. But are they smart enough to solve the problems of the 21st century?”– Thomas Homer-Dixon
Can we create ideas fast enough to solve the very problems – environmental, social, and technological – we’ve created? Homer-Dixon pinpoints the “ingenuity gap” as the critical problem we face today, and tackles it in a riveting, groundbreaking examination of a world that is rapidly exceeding our intellectual grasp.
In The Ingenuity Gap, Thomas Homer-Dixon, "global guru" (the Toronto Star), "genuine academic celebrity" (Saturday Night) and "one of Canada's most talked about and controversial scholars" (Maclean's) asks: is our world becoming too complex, too fast-paced to manage? The challenges facing us—ranging from international financial crises and global climate change to pandemics of tuberculosis and AIDS- converge, intertwine, and remain largely beyond our ken. Most of suspect the "experts don't really know what's going on; that as a species we've released forces that are neither managed nor manageable. We are fast approaching a time when we may no longer be able to control a world that increasingly exceeds our grasp. This is "the ingenuity gap"—the term coined by Thomas Homer-Dixon, political scientist and advisor to the White House—the critical gap between our need for practical, innovative ideas to solve complex problems and our actual supply of those ideas.
Through gripping narrative stories and incidents that exemplify his arguments, he takes us on a world tour that begins with a heartstopping description of the tragic crash of United Airlines Flight 232 from Denver to Chicago and includes Las Vegas in its desert, a wilderness beach in British Columbia, and his solitary search for a little girl in Patna, India. He shows how, in our complex world, while poor countries are particularly vulnerable to ingenuity gaps, our own rich countries are not immune, and we are caught dangerously between a soaring requirement for ingenuity and an increasingly uncertain supply. When the gap widens, political disintegration and violent upheaval can result, reaching into our own economies and daily lives in subtle ways. In compelling, lucid, prose, he makes real the problems we face and suggests how we might overcome them—in our own lives, our thing, our business and our societies.
From the eBook edition.
"Looking back from the year 2100, we'll see a period when our creations--technological, social, ecological--outstripped our understanding and we lost control of our destiny. And we will think: if only--if only we'd had the ingenuity and will to prevent some of that. I am convinced that there is still time to muster that ingenuity--but the hour is late." --Thomas Homer-Dixon In The Ingenuity Gap, Thomas Homer-Dixon asks: Is our world becoming too complex and fast-paced to manage? The challenges facing human societies--from international financial crises and global climate change to pandemics of tuberculosis and AIDS--converge, intertwine, and often remain largely beyond our understanding. Most of us suspect that the "experts" don't really know what's going on, and that we've released forces that are neither managed nor manageable. This is the "ingenuity gap," the term coined by Thomas Homer-Dixon, renowned political scientist and sometime adviser to the White House: the critical gap between our need for practical and innovative ideas to solve our complex problems and our actual supply of those ideas. He shows us how, in today's world, while poor countries are particularly vulnerable to ingenuity gaps, our own rich countries are no longer immune, and we are all caught dangerously between a soaring requirement for ingenuity and an increasingly uncertain supply. As the gap widens, political disintegration and violent upheaval can result, reaching into our own economies and daily lives in subtle, unforeseen ways. In compelling and lucid prose, he makes real the problems we face and suggests how we might overcome them--in our own lives, our thinking, our businesses, and our societies.
1. How do you understand Thomas Homer-Dixon's concept of the ingenuity gap? Do you think it is a useful lens through which to look at global problems? Why, or why not?
2. The Ingenuity Gap was published in 2000. How have the intervening years treated its ideas? Do you feel that Western societies are more or less arrogant and hubristic than five years ago? Would you argue that the September 11 attacks and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq relate in some way to ingenuity gaps?
3. Which part of the book did you find most stimulating? Which part of the book did you find least convincing? Why?
4. Did you find The Ingenuity Gap a dispiriting or inspiring read? Based on your reading of the evidence gathered in the book, do you think we can supply enough ingenuity to solve future problems? What can we each do, in our own lives, to make the world a better place — and is it enough?
5. If you met Thomas Homer-Dixon, what question would you put to him about The Ingenuity Gap?
From the Trade Paperback edition.
About the Author
Thomas Homer-Dixon is Director of the Peace and Conflict Studies Program and Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Environment, Scarcity, and Violence. He lives in Toronto.
From the eBook edition.
Table of Contents
How Are We Changing Our Relationship to the World? — Careening into the Future — Our New World — The Big I — Do We Need More Ingenuity to Solve the Problems of the Future? — Complexities — An Angry Beast — Glimpsing the Abyss — Unknown Unknowns — Can We Supply the Ingenuity We Need? — Brains and Ingenuity — Ingenuity and Wealth — Techno-Hubris — White-Hot Landscapes — What Does the Ingenuity Gap Mean for Our Future? — Vegas — Patna.
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