5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps the most important — certainly the most thought-provoking — book in years
October 22, 2009
Review by Jesse Kornbluth
Book by Stewart Brand
I was interviewing George Soros as the Dow rapidly shed 300 points and crashed through the 10,000 level.
“Is this it?” I asked.
Soros shrugged — a very calm reaction from an investor who might have seen his portfolio shrink by hundreds of millions of dollars in a matter of minutes.
I lost much less that day, but I had a different reaction — panic. The thing to do, I concluded, was to trade my beloved Classic 6 in Manhattan for a self-sustaining house in the country. Ten acres would suffice, as long as they had decent water, land suitable for a large garden and enough sunlight for the solar panels.
I bought a URL for the web site I planned to launch: […]. This was no back-to-the-land hippie retreat. I would be stepping into the smart future: small town/rural purity (Woodsmoke) with the 21st century benefits of a fast Internet (Broadband) and Amazon.com’s free shipping.
Given all that, you will understand that I was quite stunned to read “Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto” — by Stewart Brand, creator of the 1960s and 1970s classic, the “Whole Earth Catalog” — and discover that the last place its author would have me go is back to the land.
Howard Rheingold may well have been the first pioneer to fall down into the chasm of cyberspace and the write about it. As Editor of the Whole Earth Review, following in the footsteps of founder Stewart Brand, he has consistently been on the bleeding edge of both righteous living for a Whole Earth, and the bleeding edge of technology and the human mind. Below are links to his books, the first of which, Tools for Thinking, catalyzed deep soul-searching within the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) which at the time (1986) had nothing to offer such as Howard envisioned. He was, with John Perry Barlow, one of the two speakers at OSS ’92 who challenged virtually every aspect of the secret intelligence paradigm.
Truly Extraordinary–Core Reading for Future of Earth- Man,
September 29, 2002
I confess to being dumb. Although I know and admire the author, who has spoken at my conference, when the book came out I thought–really dumb, but I mention it because others may have made the same mistake–that it was about building a cute clock in the middle of the desert.Wrong, wrong, wrong (I was). Now, three years late but better late than never, on the recommendation of a very dear person I have read this book in detail and I find it to be one of the most extraordinary books–easily in the top ten of the 300+ books I have reviewed on Amazon.
At it’s heart, this book, which reflects the cummulative commitment of not only the author but some other brilliant avant guarde mind including Danny Hillis, Kevin Kelly (WIRED, Out of Control, the Rise of Neo-Biological Civilization), Esther Dyson, Mitch Kapor (Lotus, Electronic Frontier Foundation) and a few others, is about reframing the way people–the entire population of the Earth–think, moving them from the big now toward the Long Here, taking responsibility for acting as it every behavior will impact on the 10,000 year long timeframe.
This book is in the best traditions of our native American forebears (as well as other cultures with a long view), always promoting a feedback-decision loop that carefully considered the impact on the “seventh generation.” That’s 235 years or so, or more.
The author has done a superb job of drawing on the thinking of others (e.g. Freeman Dyson, Esther’s father) in considering the deep deep implications for mankind of thinking in time (a title popularized, brilliantly, by Ernest May and Richard Neustadt of Harvard), while adding his own integrative and expanding ideas.
He joints Lee Kuan Yew, brilliant and decades-long grand-father of Asian prosperity and cohesiveness, in focusing on culture and the long-term importance of culture as the glue for patience and sound long-term decision-making. His focus on the key principles of longevity, maintainability, transparency, evolvability, and scalability harken back to his early days as the editor of the Whole Earth Review (and Catalog) and one comes away from this book feeling that Stewart Brand is indeed the “first pilot” of Spaceship Earth.
It is not possible and would be inappropriate to try to summarize all the brilliant insights in this work. From the ideas of others to his own, from the “Responsibility Record” to using history as a foundation for dealing with rapid change, to the ideas for a millenium library to the experienced comments on how to use scenarios to reach consensus among conflicted parties as to mutual interests in the longer-term future, this is–the word cannot be overused in this case–an extraordinary book from an extraordinary mind.
This book is essential reading for every citizen-voter-taxpayer, and ends with an idea for holding politicians accountable for the impact of their decisions on the future. First class, world class. This is the book that sets the stage for the history of the future.