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The Wonderful Future That Never Was: Flying Cars, Mail Delivery by Parachute, and Other Predictions from the Past (Popular Mechanics) Hardcover – October 5, 2010

62 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Benford, an astrophysicist and noted science-fiction author, teams up with the editors of Popular Mechanics to take readers on a tour through a future that (mostly) never happened. If the various predictions seen here—all taken from the magazine’s archives—had come true, we’d be living today in cities with multiple underground levels for pedestrians and traffic (predicted in 1928); or cities made of glass (1936). We’d be living in homes with furniture you clean with a hose (1950) and wearing clothing made of aluminum (1929), or maybe asbestos (also 1929). Our cars would fly (1928, 1943), or maybe we’d be driving Rotavions, personal vertical-takeoff-and-landing vehicles that can operate as an airfoil or a helicopter (1961). Despite the fact that many of the predictions discussed in the book seem laughably silly today, they’re not played for laughs; they’re presented as historical curiosities, examples of how predictions based on cutting-edge research and extrapolated from social trends can seem sensible when they’re made but not so much later on. And it’s worth noting, as the editors do, that some predictions did come true, like pocket-size computers (predicted in 1962) and mass-produced, prepackaged frozen dinners (1947). Profusely illustrated (there’s something on nearly every page), the book is endlessly fascinating, a collage of snapshots of the present the way people saw it when it was still the distant future. --David Pitt

About the Author

Gregory Benford is a two-time winner of the Nebula Award, a professor of physics at the University of California and has served as an advisor to the Department of Energy, NASA and the White House Council on Space Policy. He is the author of more than 20 novels and has won the John W. Campbell Award, the Australian Ditmar Award, the 1995 Lord Foundation Award for achievement in the sciences and the 1990 United Nations Medal in Literature.


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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 and up
  • Series: Popular Mechanics
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Hearst (October 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1588168220
  • ISBN-13: 978-1588168221
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 7.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #418,587 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Gregory Benford, author of top-selling novels, including Jupiter Project, Artifact, Against Infinity, Eater, and Timescape, is that unusual creative combination of scientist scholar and talented artist; his stories capture readers - hearts and minds - with imaginative leaps into the future of science and of us.

A University of California faculty member since 1971, Benford has conducted research in plasma turbulence theory and experiment, and in astrophysics. His published scientific articles include well over a hundred papers in fields of physics from condensed matter, particle physics, plasmas and mathematical physics, and several in biological conservation.

Often called hard science fiction, Benford's stories take physics into inspired realms. What would happen if cryonics worked and people, frozen, were awoken 50 years in the future? What might we encounter in other dimensions? How about sending messages across time? And finding aliens in our midst? The questions that physics and scientists ask, Benford's imagination explores.
With the re-release of some of his earlier works and the new release of current stories and novels, Benford takes the lead in creating science fiction that intrigues and amuses us while also pushing us to think.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Shadow Walker on December 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover
There aren't that many retro-futurism books out there, at least ones that are accessible to your average lay reader. The Wonderful Future That Never Was is one of the best. It provides a nice comprehensive compendium of the various predictions that people were making decades ago about what life would be like in the year 2000. Some have turned out to be true - although not necessarily in the manner predicted - and others have been wayyy off the mark.

A few things that set this book apart from the rest:

1. Specific years are included. This may seem like a small thing, but it's interesting to see how predictions differed from year to year, as opposed to having some vague statement of what things were like in the 1930s as a whole. The way this book is formatted, we have little blurbs and paragraphs talking about the various predictions, with the specific year in which said prediction was made.

2. There is hardly any "hindsight is 20/20" bias. It's all too easy for us to mock the 'out there' predictions of the future*, e.g. "LOL, they thought we'd be wearing skinsuits and living in domed cities?? Idiots!" So I appreciate the author's restraint here. While the book does present an introduction to each chapter, most of the predictions themselves are presented without any outside commentary. Consequently, we can judge and see the predictions for what they actually are, instead of being unduly swayed by the author's own biases. The Wonderful Future That Never Was feels a lot less patronizing than a lot of other books on the same subject.

3. Plenty of pictures included! They're nice and large too. Easy to view.

If you are interested in this subject at all, I strongly recommend getting this book.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Robin Benson on April 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover
One of the editorial mainstays of the monthly hobbyist magazines like Popular Mechanics and Popular Science was the blending of the future with the present. Every issue had pages of DIY things for the craftsman, usually in the back half of the magazines, before that there were pages and pages of new developments in science and products and how they related to Mr and Mrs Average and their families. Anything to do with transport and speed was heavily featured. The pages of the book pick out the scientific predictions over several decades divided into six chapters.

I thought it was interesting that the earlier predictions, in the first two and a half decades of the last century, really were rather fanciful based on fairly simple scientific principles. In the thirties with the huge increase in new products and developments (during the Depression, too) the predictions became more tempered and practical. By the late forties and during the fifties the future projections were much more based on reality. Actually a reasonably accurate way of predicting the future was developed in the fifties by the Rand Corporation, called the Delphi Technique. Experts in various disciplines answered questions anonymously and the answers were blended together to created a reliable future projection for all sorts broadly scientific activity. The predictions in this book, of course, don't have that kind of credibility.

I thought chapter two 'Home, sweet home of tomorrow' the most interesting with its mixture of ideas, a lot of which certainly came true because we all live with them now.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer on October 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In short?
Amazing hardcover book with the right production values and colors to bring years of Popular Mechanics to life with all those FUTURISTIC Gizmos and Gregory Benford--who should be named King of the Editorial Side Of All Compilations.
Buy it.
Plunk it on the back of your Throne or on the coffee table and read at leisure.
When you are done--someone ought to take the time to build a few of these for mass-production. There were some grand ideas!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By J. Spears on April 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book was purchased as a gift. My husband is a huge fan of Popular Mechanics and really wanted this book so I bought it for him as a gift. It turned out to be a bit of a let down. There were multiple typos in the text and the graphics left a lot to be desired. Overall the book felt a little slapped together. With all the wonderful old articles and graphics to choose from this could have been better. Not a terrible purchase; it just didn't live up to expectations.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By James D. Crabtree VINE VOICE on December 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book looks at technological predictions and discusses them in a format which makes the book very readable. Picturephones, future cities, giant airliners... these are all looked at as the "wave of the future" and discussed as short articles. Some predictions came true, others saw development but in a manner unforeseen and of course others were really never that practical at all. This makes for some very good reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Laura Probst VINE VOICE on April 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Full of predictions that range from the amazingly prescient (that of a flat-screen, wall-mounted TV from 1954; a 1928 prediction of a half-mile high skyscraper, a feat recently achieved by the 2,684-foot-tall Buij Khalifa building in Khalifa; even the simple prognostications of automotive safety glass, from 1940, and push-button telephones, from 1942), the plausible, but way ahead of their time (the 1967 prediction of a computerized home, an idea put into practice at the time by the Sutherland family in PA--using a computer which took up the entire basement rec room; a 1968 prediction of a laser knife to use in surgery, an idea which only now is being seriously researched and developed; a 1944 prediction for a 3-D home theatre system, which has finally become available even though the technology still hasn't been fully perfected), and so bizarre it's hard to believe the ideas were ever taken seriously (like this one from 1926, that all food will soon be made from coal, supplemented by fats made from petroleum--yum; or from 1952, the prediction that we can reorganize the solar system to make colonization easy, by breaking apart or shrinking planets, or by moving them closer to the sun--anyone got a bulldozer that big?--not to mention the many predictions concerning flying cars which, while it's disappointing that we still haven't become the Jetsons, is actually rather a relief. With the number of accidents we have on the ground today, can you imagine the carnage air traffic accidents would create?), The Wonderful Future That Never Was is a fun and entertaining trip down memory lane.Read more ›
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