on December 3, 2001
Unlike our friend from Prague, who obviously has an axe to grind, I thought this was a brilliant book! Its scope is breathtaking, and its thesis is convincing. And the book is starting to get the attention it deserves, in the form of Canada's Governor General's award for non-fiction, the country's top literary prize.
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.
on November 28, 2000
The Ingenuity Gap is a book filled with big ideas that originate from numerous fields of research, and the result is quite stunning. There are so many contentious topics in this 400-page book that every now and then readers are bound to disagree with the author. Notwithstanding, disagreement is the result of conversation, and throughout the book this is the impression I had, that I was having a conversation with a man who has traveled all over the world to find a solution (if one there is) to the growing complexities of the world we live in.
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. But that is exactly what we can expect from people who spend their whole lives working in an environment that has distanced itself from the natural world (see, for instance, the Vegas chapter of this book). We Westerners have erected towering protective walls around our lives, and knowingly or not we have built the very screens which make it very difficult to see what lies beyond and consequently make it even more difficult for us to find solutions to problems people in less-fortunate countries are facing. Eventually, Homer-Dixon argues, the problems arising in a small country on the other side of the globe could very well embark on the bandwagon of chaos and surprise us with a bang on arrival.
The Ingenuity Gap is, to use a word E. O. Wilson resurrected a few years ago, an example of consilience, in that it draws on research from different fields - scientific, social, etc - to make a point, hoping in the process that it will initiate rapprochement and a fine-tuned orchestration (instead of competitiveness) of human efforts to solve the many difficulties we face today and undoubtedly shall face in the future.
Filled with to-the-point metaphors, interesting people, and written with exemplary lucidity, The Ingenuity Gap is the perfect wake-up call for a world that, awash in information, is slowly giving up on itself.
on October 2, 2001
Thomas Homer-Dixon describes that, while lots of political, economical, technological and ecological problems face us, the world has become too complex for us to control or even understand. He argues that in order to solve these problems, we need more ingenuity - more and better ideas for solving our technical and -even more importantly - our social problems. He says there is an ingenuity gap. In other words, there is more ingenuity needed than there is supply of it. This ingenuity gap should urge us to get busy and close it. Unfortunately, there are three reasons why we don't immediately get up and do it. First, we have become overconfident of our ability to solve the problems we face and we have too much confidence in the workings of the free market (the author speaks of 'Western triumphalism'). Second, we tend to underestimate the severity of our problems. This is because the many changes in the world have accumulated slowly, making it often hard for us to recognise how profound they have been. Third, the comfortable surroundings we live in suppress our perception of time and space and distort the signals we receive from our surrounding environment. This is why we may misunderstand the character of the problems we face or don't see them as problems at all. In this very special book, the author tries to awaken us and do something about the ingenuity gap. He explores many of his intuitions, takes the reader on a fascinating trip around the world, explores intellectual frontiers like complexity theory, investigates the workings of the human mind, critically examines the validity of dominant economic theories, and explains why strong and competent governments are essential for building wealthy and healthy societies. Homer-Dixon believes there is still time to munster the needed ingenuity, but notes that the hour is late. Don't expect simple solutions from this book but do expect to find it interesting and to learn and be inspired.
on February 20, 2010
This book could be updated daily by more events and phenomena, pointing that Thomas Homer-Dixon knows what he writes about.
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 !
on November 17, 2001
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 cleverness, but it's also packed with fascinating discussions of technical matters -- from global warming to fusion power to the evolution of the human brain. Homer-Dixon brings all these issues together within one conceptual framework by looking at the balance between our requirement for "ingenuity" (basically, practical ideas to solve our problems) and our supply of ingenuity. He is largely successful. Amazingly, despite the difficult subjects he discusses, The Ingenuity Gap is a good read, and some passages are quite moving. It's full of stories and colorful anecdotes, drawn from the author's travels around world. I know of few other books that blend storytelling and technical writing so well.
This book will be contentious. It will even make some people very angry. It challenges received wisdom over and over again: it raises questions about the sustainability of capitalism, about whether we can rely on science and technology to solve our problems, and about the effects of the Internet on democracy. Techno-libertarians will object, as will advocates of unfettered markets. But it's not easy to dismiss this book, because Homer-Dixon has done his research well (the 60-odd pages of endnotes are packed with citations and fascinating tidbits of information).
The Ingenuity Gap's central argument is straightforward, even banal: we may be creating a world that's too complex and unpredictable to manage. However, nowhere else have I seen this idea developed so thoroughly and so convincingly. After I finished this book, I found the world appeared very different, and the future looked considerably less secure.
on December 23, 2001
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 preparing for the future.
on November 15, 2001
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 personal antedotes.
An excellent book.
on November 14, 2001
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. We are all entitled to an opinion.
on February 26, 2002
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 interview with the author. Although I am a voracious reader, I never heard such a cogent argument that the complexity and interactivity of the ecosystem, technological systems, and social and political institutions may prevent us from solving incredibly difficult problems such as global warming, declining potable water sources, declining oil supplies, depletion of our top soil, and of recent concern to us, but not new to many others, home terrorism.
Ironically the incredible advance in communication technology according to Homer-Dixon has made it much more difficult for us to combat terrorists as seen for many years with the Tamil rebels in Sri Lanka and more recent years Osama Bin Laden. They can be supplied with money from any part of the world and easily find individuals and countries willing to supply highly sophisticated and deadly arms for the right price.
It also allows small special interest groups to thwart government policies for the public good such as environmental policies and helps to keep inappropriate politicians in power.
Although "The Ingenuity Gap" has been well written, it must be read slowly to fully absorb the incredible amount of information and concepts contained in Homer-Dixon's enormously important book.
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. INGENUITY GAP is an exploration of a large number of major and increasingly complex problems facing human society. We will require all the ingenuity and political will that we can muster to deal with these successfully. An ingenuity gap is the difference between "the set of instructions" needed to find solutions for specific problems and the capacity of the people, community or state to take the right actions in solving them. As the problems become increasingly multifaceted the development of the matching sets of instructions require more talent and competence.
Ingenuity comes in two forms - technical and social. One without the other will not provide us with lasting solutions. Technical solutions might even lead us down a garden path without complementary social ingenuity. It is the latter that guarantees results taking economic, ecological and cultural needs into account. To make his point, Homer-Dixon explores a wide range of examples demonstrating tremendous levels of ingenuity at work all over the world - both technical and social. His contention is that they are available to us if we look properly.
H-D, or Tad as he is usually called, takes us on a tour around the planet, using concrete examples to amplify his argument. Obviously, the result is not your usual travelogue and we are not visiting popular vacation spots or tourist attractions. Visiting Vegas, London's Canary Wharf or Patna, India, he believes that a personalized approach facilitates the following of his arguments. While some reviewers have criticized that H-D places himself too much into the story, it nonetheless contributes to the readability of the often exceedingly complicated issues he is addressing. He also conveys his own learning through interviews with some of the foremost scientists in the various fields he covers: from soil scientists to climatologists, from computer science to economy and architecture.
His in depth deductions from the wide range of interviews with scientists represent one of the highlights of the book. For example, while exploring the latest research into the human brain as the central point for ingenuity development, Tad takes his questions to one of the world's leading experts on frontal lobes, Donald Stuss. His conversations with Stuss provide fascinating insights in the importance of frontal lobe abilities to process change and integrate experiences and learning. This part of the brain handles our creative and intellectual capabilities. With aging, the ability of the brain to absorb new information lessens while the ability to digest and process complex interrelationships increases. His conclusions are far reaching - changing the way we assess leadership and identify those who are best qualified to meet the challenges of our corporate and administrative hierarchies. After each of these in-depth conversations, H-D reflects on the substance of the dialogue and returns to his overall theme - how can we minimize the ingenuity gap that is widening all the time.
Tad groups his book into sections, each addressing different aspects and disciplines from which to review the ingenuity requirements of the modern world. He depicts environmental problems and those related to continuing rapid population growth, which to him is a major challenge for the planet's future. He does not have a lot of patience with the 'economic optimists' or the 'techno-hubris'. He expands on incidences which demonstrate that a single-minded and, in some way, naïve belief that technological advance alone is capable of solving the world's problems will fail.
It's impossibleto do justice here to the many strands of global analysis that Homer-Dixon presents the reader with. His many years of research, in particular into environmental scarcity and civil violence allow him to assess ingenuity gaps from many different angles. The criticism that he does not supply adequate answers and does not show a way forward, is oversimplifying what H-D is attempting to achieve. The modern world is at a level of complexity that no one person can comprehend. As a consequence, it will take the ingenuity and political will of many to address the wide range of issues confronting us. In the pursuit of answers, he urges intellectual humility and thinking outside the box. He encourages his readers to take up the challenges, explore them further, and question any simple or easy solutions being offered by political leaders. This is an important reference book to be read more than once.