Synopses & Reviews
Economic collapse, deadly famine, political upheaval, catastrophic storms, religious fanaticism, lethal plagues, overcrowded cities -- is this what the future holds? The keys to our future, says author and Time
magazine contributor Eugene Linden, are hidden in plain sight, obscured by the glare of the present and the tyranny of the recent past. Writes Linden: "We will know much if we can answer one question: Will life in the next century be less stable than it is now?"
Humans have prospered during the extraordinary stability of recent decades, but our very success carries with it the seeds of future upheaval. If we look carefully, we can see harbingers of the coming turmoil. But what can we do about it?
It is particularly difficult to imagine a return to instability today, since baby boomers have had the privilege of growing up in one of the most stable periods in the vast sweep of human history. More than fifty years have passed without catastrophic conflict between great powers; more than sixty years have passed since the end of the last great economic depression. This hiatus falls within a period of 150 years of good weather that is just beginning to change. Since our distant ancestors last saw real instability, more than 8,000 years ago, humans have invented agriculture, writing, cities, and commerce; we have flown to the moon and have multiplied from a few million souls to roughly 5.6 billion.
We have come to view stability as the norm, but it is not. For the first 95 percent of humanity's time on the planet, our ancestors regularly had to cope with rapid change brought about by abrupt climate shifts and their impact on the landscape and food supply. Even in the brief snippet of time that constitutes recorded human history, civilizations have collapsed repeatedly because of droughts and plagues, and with the invasions of armies and ideas.
What would it mean if instability returned?
The Future in Plain Sight lays out nine clues to the answer. These include: the persistently widening gap between the rich and poor; the resurgence of infectious disease; the effects of a changing global climate on businesses and human attitudes; and the currency crises in Mexico and Asia. In each of the nine clues, Linden focuses on an overlooked aspect of familiar events. He looks past the immediate upheavals caused by the Mexican and Asian currency crises, for instance, to see an inherent volatility in the global market that these crises exposed. The book shows how each clue is symptomatic of ever-increasing instability in fundamental aspects of modern life, ranging from the world's financial markets to the natural systems that support our well-being.
How will we live in the year 2050? How can we plan for life in an unsettled and unsettling universe? Linden explores the frightening prospect of this world through a series of scenarios that dramatize the forces that will prevail in the coming decades. From London and New York to central Africa and Antarctica, these scenarios portray life in the unstable world of 2050.
About the Author
Eugene Linden writes about science, technology, and the environment for Time magazine and has contributed to The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Fortune, Inc., National Geographic, and Foreign Affairs. His most recent book, Silent Partners, was cited as a notable book of 1986 by The New York Times. He has appeared on many television and radio shows, including Nightline, Firing Line, All Things Considered, McNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, and Good Morning America.
He lives in Nyack, New York, with his wife and three children.