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What Is Your Dangerous Idea?: Today's Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable Paperback – March 13, 2007


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (March 13, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061214957
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061214950
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #256,228 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

The publisher of the influential online science salon Edge.org, John Brockman is the editor of Thinking, This Explains Everything, This Will Make You Smarter, and What Should We Be Worried About? He founded the literary agency Brockman Inc. and lives in New York City.


More About the Author

The founder and publisher of the on-line science salon Edge.org, John Brockman is the editor of THIS WILL CHANGE EVERYTHING, WHAT IS YOUR DANGEROUS IDEA?, WHAT WE BELIEVE BUT CANNOT PROVE. He is the CEO of the literary agency Brockman Inc. and lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

This book is sort of like a good starting point.
Jerry G. Prochazka
His dangerous idea is that a Darwinian approach would provide a true theory for understanding and analyzing art, music, and literature.
Geoff Bond
The essays are generally excellent at explaining why the topics are relevant to modern life.
D. Greenes

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 48 people found the following review helpful By R S Cobblestone VINE VOICE on June 16, 2007
Format: Paperback
It is an interesting and provocative question: what is your "dangerous idea"? John Brockman edited this compilation of short essays from a variety of "leading thinkers." This effort was inspired by the Edge Foundation, a "third culture" think-tank that sponsors "edge dot org," and has a mandate "...to promote inquiry into and discussion of intellectual, philosophical, artistic, and literary issues, as well as to work for the intellectual and social achievement of society."

In other words, Joe and Jane Citizen were not invited to participate in this project. Too bad... it would have been a worthy exercise to see "third culture intellectuals" spouting out alongside those who live in... our first and second culture?

Regardless, there are some interesting ideas presented here, even if the pool of writers has been high-graded through a filter that is not clearly specified.

There is an introduction and an afterward written by Steven Pinker and Richard Dawkins, respectively. These are both interesting essays in their own right. Pinker stated that "When done right, science (together with other truth-seeking institutions, such as history and journalism) characterizes the world as it is, without regard to whose feelings get hurt. Science in particular has always been a source of heresy, and today the galloping advances in touchy areas like genetics, evolution, and the environmental sciences are bound to throw unsettling possibilities at us" (p. xxv).

Pinker continues, "Another contributor to the perception of dangerousness is the intellectual blinkers that humans tend to don when they split into factions.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Jeff Benson on May 17, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I wish all books were as hard to put down as this one!

The mini-essays are short enough to pick the book up, read several, put it down and mull them over for awhile. Often, two very well-articulated dangerous ideas will be in complete contradiction to one another and will thus be placed one right after the other.

Highly recommend reading.
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Format: Paperback
(Plus Richard Dawkins, who writes an Afterword.)

I'll give you some dangerous ideas. Take steps to reduce the human population worldwide to around a billion people and keep it there. Take the biological desire of people to play house and be mothers and fathers, and redirect it into responsible stewardship of the planet.

Don't like that one? Seems too draconian? How about this? End all tax exempt status for churches, mosques, etc. (Resounding voice coming onstage: "Only when they tear my cold, dead fingers from the collection plate!")

Here's another: realize that to know all is to forgive all, and that we are all just biological automations acting out our genetic drives and have no more free will than an ant on the pheromone trail. Deal with people acting in antisocial ways by (1) curing them with psychopharmacology, surgery, retraining, or (2) euthanasia.

Decriminalize street drug use. Allow Phillip Morris to get into the cannabis business and Merck to process opium into heroin. If some people become dysfunctional, see previous dangerous idea and employ it.

Well, none of John Brockman's esteemed contributors came up with anything quite THAT dangerous, probably because the danger of such ideas is most immediately to the person who would advance them! Psychiatrist Randolph M. Nesse gives us some guidance on why such ideas are not being advanced in this book in his modest essay on "Unspeakable Ideas." (pp. 193-195) Here's one: "when your business group is trying to deal with a savvy competitor, say, `It seems to me that their product is superior, because they are smarter than we are.'" Also unspeakable is, "I will only do what benefits me." Nesse writes that saying something like that is akin to committing "social suicide.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Alex De Visscher on June 11, 2009
Format: Paperback
In 2006, John Brockman asked some prominent thinkers what they considered to be their most dangerous idea. This book is a collection of some of the most striking answers. Brockman managed to get some leading minds to contribute, including Paul Davies, John Allen Paulos, Daniel C. Dennett, Freeman J. Dyson, Michael Shermer, and includes an introduction by Steven Pinker and an afterword by Richard Dawkins. That in itself makes the book remarkable.

Pinker raises high expectations in his introduction by including some dangerous, thought provoking and disturbing ideas that people have thought in the past. Unfortunately, the majority of the ideas presented in this book pale in comparison. Many contributors came up with ideas that only a religious fundamentalist or a completely uneducated person would find dangerous (e.g., there is no soul, much of our behaviour is controlled by genes, ...), whereas others were just playing games. However, I did come across some genuinely interesting ideas that result from thinking outside the box (e.g., the fact that our ethical snap decisions are sometimes irrational refutes the idea of a divine origin of morality), and one genuinely disturbing one (all pregnant single moms should undergo a forced abortion). And I came across the main concept of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.

Despite the weaknesses, this is an enjoyable read. The contributions are so short that you never really get annoyed about a weak idea, and there are enough gems in this collection to make up for the rest.
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