One of the most interesting books I’ve read in a while was one that I picked up back in January. I’ve been meaning to write a review since then, but I had been holding off for a couple of reasons. Firstly, in case my book club chose it (it didn’t) and if I was to lend it to a particular friend (I haven’t yet). However, the recent trigger was an article on a friend’s blog where the point was made about being prepared to change your mind in light of new evidence. Stewart Brand, the author of this book, similarly states that his opinions are “strongly stated and loosely held”. Strongly stated opinions are useful ones – they can be acted upon – while loosely held beliefs allow for the potential of giving them up when better ones come along. In this vein, the book is meant to provocatively challenge some common beliefs.
Whole Earth Discipline
Managed to change my mind on urbanisation, nuclear power and biotech
In this book, Stewart Brand considers what might be the most significant forces for good in the next century, and produces a somewhat surprising list: urbanisation, nuclear power and genetic technology. As Malcolm Gladwell does in other pop-science books, Brand pulls together emerging scientific findings of an interesting and compelling nature. However, for Brand, it is a personal exercise, as a number of his conclusions are the opposite of those that he held earlier in his life as an environmental activist.
While the conclusions don’t feel like the final word on the topics, as is par for the course regarding emerging research, to my reading, they do provide a substantial enough case for at least provisional acceptance. However, I must admit I wasn’t convinced by the argument on how nuclear proliferation is not a problem with today’s nuclear technology. Still, I found the book to be fascinating, informative and has already supplied me with ammunition in number of friendly debates.
In addition, the author summarises his book in this podcast, and provides updated references and annotation at this site.