The Ingenuity Gap: How Can We Solve The Problems of the Future? Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Sep 23 2000
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As the world becomes more complex, so do its problems--and the solutions to these problems become tougher to grasp, writes University of Toronto professor Thomas Homer-Dixon in The Ingenuity Gap. "As we strive to maintain or increase our prosperity and improve the quality of our lives, we must make far more sophisticated decisions, and in less time, than ever before," he writes. Is the day coming in which our ingenuity can't keep up? Homer-Dixon fears that it is: "the hour is late," and we're blindly "careening into the future." What we face, he says, is a "very real chasm that sometimes looms between our ever more difficult problems and our lagging ability to solve them." There are moments when Homer-Dixon comes close to sounding like a modern-day Malthus, with his never-ending worries about population growth, the environment, the strength of international financial institutions, civil wars, and so on. Yet parts of this book are downright fascinating; at its best, The Ingenuity Gap reads like one of Malcolm Gladwell's stories for The New Yorker (or his book The Tipping Point).
Homer-Dixon is very good when he tackles particular problems, and his interests are wide-ranging, moving from the psychology of an airplane cockpit during a crisis to the depletion of the world's fisheries to differences between the minds of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens. He also dredges up fine details. Did you know that "the largest human-made structure on the planet is not an Egyptian pyramid or a hydroelectric dam but the Staten Island Fresh Kills landfill near New York City, which has a depth of one hundred meters and an area of nine square kilometers"? There's plenty to argue with on these pages, and some readers will find Homer-Dixon's tendency to write in the first person a bit self-indulgent. Yet fans of big-think books like Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, David Landes's The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, and Robert Wright's The Moral Animal will find The Ingenuity Gap riveting. --John J. Miller --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
In a virtual tour of the state of ingenuity today, Homer-Dixon reminds us that "the greater complexity, unpredictability and pace of our world, and our rising demands on the human-made and natural systems around us" make it more critical than ever that smart solutions to technical and social problems be ready at a moment's notice. If economists like Harold Barnett and Chandler Morse rely on market forces to keep the supply of ingenuity in line with demand, Homer-Dixon, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto, regards such an attitude as dangerously optimistic. Recounting the details and timing of crises like the October 1987 stock market crash and the July 1989 crash of United Flight 232 in which 111 passengers died but 185 miraculously survived, he argues that only a unique confluence of people and experience lets the supply of ingenuity equal the demand to avert total disaster in each case. Given persistent imperfections in markets, breakdowns in feedback loops and the weakening of social structures that have traditionally facilitated ingenuity, he is dubious that such extraordinary conditions can be met time and again. To scare us into action, he provides hair-raising examples of the effects of collapsing systems in Third World countries he has visited and studied. Marshaling a vast amount of information from such disparate fields as economics, ecology and biology, Homer-Dixon makes his most compelling case arguing for increased efforts to nurture social as well as technical ingenuity. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
There are many things I like about The Ingenuity Gap: what appeals to me most is that Homer-Dixon attacks the arrogance of Western society -- the idea that if everybody simply does things like us, they'll be rich, fat, and happy [via a reality of 80 hour work weeks, fast,greasy food and a prescription]. We think that we've got everything worked out, that we know it all. Page by page, this book demolishes that conceit. Each chapter goes after one or two of the assumptions that sustain our pumped-up arrogance and self-delusion. By the time Homer-Dixon finishes, human beings are revealed for what they really are -- incredibly creative creatures who are nonetheless frequently out of their depth, but who spend a great deal of energy convincing themselves that they aren't. [I'm not sure if I should thank him for this insight or just seek chocolate comfort!]
Homer-Dixon writes with real power. He uses personal stories, with his life and overseas experiences as his raw materials. Readers who are comfortable only with academic writing might find these stories self-indulgent, but I find that the style successfully communicates a specific idea or point. Why don't we encourage our dry-as-dust academics and intellectuals to communicate with stories more? Instead of slamming Homer-Dixon for revealing something about himself, we should applaud him for his courage. [Where was Homer-Dixon when I was in university????]
The Ingenuity Gap should be required reading in our schools and universities, and it should be on the bedside table of all our politicians and decision-makers. This one is a must-read.
The application of chaos and non-linearity to social science is probably not new, but Homer-Dixon presents this principle in such a way that it is impossible for the reader not to see it extending its long fingers around the world we live in, a world that, thanks to us, is growing in complexity.
This book serves as a wake-up call for policy-makers around the world who believe that every problem can be solved by technical means only (such as providing Internet connections to starving African children in countries ravaged by wars, jingoism, disease and scarcity of natural resources). Such positivism is misplaced, or misappropriated, Homer-Dixon argues. The widening gap between the rich and the poor of this world is a problem that is in urgent need of being addressed, and as long as we blind ourselves to the oftentimes hard realities of this world, or refuse to look beyond the gates of our rich Western communities, the world will not become a better place, and it could even turn for the worse.
Is this book nothing more than the musings of an unfettered alarmist? Some Westerners might argue that it is.Read more ›
September 11 attack, current market collapse, accounting scandals in big corporations, haze over Asia, air pollution in big cities of North America, people getting tropical viruses in West Coast, flooding and torrential rain in Central Europe, severe weather patterns in Canada and predictions of shortage of clean water (UN and Natural Resources Canada warnings), evidence of Gulf Stream warming - we just keep getting more and more of it.
"The Ingenuity Gap" is like a Bible to me. This is still very actual book despite the fact, that it has been written 2 years ago. It is like little multisubject encyclopedia where every intellectual person can find current information about world population statistics, list of economic, social and environmental challenges, knowledge about atmosphere, soil, fertilizers, global warming, human brain and its aging, chaos and complexity theories, evolution of homo sapiens and about modern theories of economical growth. The list is much longer and even if one does not want to support author's message, he will find pleasure to read all this information. Each chapter is supported by a large number of current references, interviews and opinions of leading scientists.
Fantastic research and enormous writing effort Professor Homer! Your powerful message should be mandatory reading in schools and for all who govern and manage human affairs -starting from presidents, ministers and economists and ending with scientists, government workers and park rangers !
Most recent customer reviews
I read Homer Dixon's Book and I was very disapointed. His book lacks structure, and is very very repetitive(Its 400 pages, it could be easily written in 50 pages without... Read morePublished on June 28 2005
The short answer to Homer-Dixon's question in the subtitle of his book "Can we solve the problems of the future?" is: it depends. Read morePublished on Dec 12 2002 by Friederike Knabe
Not a bad book by any means, eloquently writting, well researched, and Dixon often adds a well fit personal perspective and experience to his points. Read morePublished on May 15 2002 by Joe Greps
I first became acquainted with the extraordinary book "The Ingenuity Gap" by Thomas Homer-Dixon on Pacifica Radio, KPFK Los Angeles, on the "Free Forum" show during a one hour... Read morePublished on Feb. 26 2002
An excellent resource for understanding the challenges we are facing in the 21st century. Homer-Dixon's book is accessible, precise and provides strong recommendations for... Read morePublished on Dec 23 2001 by Justin Peffer
This is an extraordinary book, and it should be widely read. Not only does it make a compelling case that the problems we're creating for ourselves are rapidly outrunning our... Read morePublished on Nov. 17 2001 by Doug James Armstrong
anyone not taking seriously the information in The Ingenuity Gap
is still asleep. Prof. Homer-Dixon's book is clear, concise and
accurate combined with sensitivity and... Read more
Thought provoking, incise, right on the mark. I dodn't know what book the reviewer from Prague was writing about, but I suggest he read this book. Read morePublished on Nov. 14 2001
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