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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: A Brief History of the Future: A Brave and Controversial Look at the Twenty-First Century (Hardcover)
This book is an outrageous and awful book and on so many levels, it's difficult really to know where to start. Just to say at the top, it may be that more than half of what's wrong with this book has to do with the translator, Jeremy Leggatt.

To begin, the book as a whole is not coherent in construction. The author starts off telling the reader that history has laws and he, with his knowledge, is going to show those laws to you by illustrating them in providing a brief history of capitalism which just happens to be the content of Chapter 2 and consists, in general, of a description of the nine "cores" or major cities that developed a mercantile class, starting off with, after introducing the Greeks and the Mediterranean continent, Bruges, Venice, Antwerp, Genoa and ending up with Amsterdam, Boston, London, New York, and finally Los Angeles.

By the end of Chapter 2, you know nothing about the laws of history nor about any laws in history whatsoever. You only know what the author asserts: there have always been a military class, a religious class, and a mercantile class (as if you needed the author to teach you this!) - and always will be--, though the author's history here serves to show only that the mercantile class was, is, and will be always the very top class.

Secondly, the book then swiftly launches into discussions about the end of the American Empire, planetary war, and then the so-called (by him) planetary democracy for no historical or logical reasoning laid down by any foundation he created, throwing the reader into the future willy-nilly with all sorts of false, wild, outrageous, and quite horrific assertions as if he were himself were engaged in playing a nasty game with the reader. Are these results the consequences of a poor translation from the French, or is the author on a self-created and self-lacerating sado-masochistic drug trip?

How can the author be trusted with any accurate description of the future when he cannot even describe the present accurately? He writes on page 124 "Google recently made available to the citizens of Mountain View . . . and to those of San Francisco free and universal access to wireless and high-performance Internet." This is not a true nor an accurate statement. Speaking as a San Franciscan myself, San Francisco, in particular, has no free WiFi, except in certain coffee houses, which is a fact no different from many other cities in the United States. Elsewhere, the author asserts: "There is today no war between two countries for the first time in more than six decades." This, too, is an assertion that goes against contemporary evidence. Relying upon certain highly partisan and highly politicized and non-scientific information, the author falsely asserts ": "The last decade has been the hottest in history. And doubtless this phenomenon is only beginning." And finally, on page 227, while discussing Islamic conversion and ignoring the whole Islamic concept of Sharia, the author incorrectly states, "In principle, conversion is individual and without political connotations." What kind of knowledge, integrity and authority does this author truly possess when such assertions are made?

In the category of the outrageous, the author wholly disparages the idea of freedom and liberty, making the following statements which are scattered here or there within the book. On page 14, in discussing empires, the author declares, as if himself only a friend of totalitarian regimes and dictatorships, "The enslavement of the majority is the condition of freedom for the few." As he discusses the future in later chapters, the author asserts that "Some will then find that freedom itself - humanity's target since the beginnings of the mercantile order - is in fact only the illusory manifestation of a caprice within time's prison." When, according to his vision of the future, man and woman are totally solitary and totally selfish creatures completely filled with narcissistic desires, the author says on page 179 that " individual freedom will have reached the mountain top, at least in the imagination, by the new use of nomadic objects."

On the level of the incoherent and confusing, the author, in one instance, writing about John Harrison, the inventor of the chronometer for ships, states that the invention "was willed into being by political powers." It was? How? No explanation. In another instance, the author writes that the authoritarian state creates the market, which, in turn, creates democracy. It does? How? No explanation. Here is another of the author's assertions for which there is no support or explanation at all when he is writing about New York from 1920 to 1980 in Chapter 2: ""Throughout the West, service activities (whether private or public) cannot yet be automated, and therefore demand an increasing share in the surplus. In the absence of automation of the services, provided by the white-collar workers in industry, the productivity both of work and of capital stagnates - as military and social spending rises." What surplus is he talking about? No explanation. Besides these flaws and confusions, the author needlessly invents new words, words like "hyperdemocracy" when he really means planetary totalitarianism, "hyperconflict" when he means planetary conflict, and "transhuman" when he means people with human, loving values (although I wouldn't myself have chosen, as the author does, people as duty-bound as Mother Theresa or as outrageously wealthy (by marriage) as Melissa Gates as exemplars of the human species).

But let's skip any further academic discussion of why this book is riddled with flaws and just jump into Jacques Attali's brief history of the future. What does he say the future has in store for us? . The tenth core or major mercantile city for the immediate future is and for the distant indefinite future will be, Los Angeles, although it could be San Diego or LaJolla. In 2030 California will cease to attract the lion's share of the world's innovators and the United States could become a Scandanavian-styled social democracy or a dictatorship. In 2040, "the Watchers" will be watching everyone since "surveillance objects" will be the norm in this era of Big Brother. (Aren't we already in the era of Big Brother?) Everyone will be monitored and everyone will agree to be monitored, the author says. In 2050, the "world order" will coalesce around a market that has become planetary. (Isn't that already here?) By 2050, we will have an "informal world government." (Isn't that, too, already here?) On page 181, the author says, "The market will breach the laws of democracy," - as if they haven't already been breached with this private/public manipulation of government services? He adds, "Financial insecurity will become the rule for everyone." Hello?

In 2090, the author says the moon will be colonized (yawn), and a little later, the interior of the solar system will be colonized (yadda, yadda), and, on page 209, the human being will have become a commercial object through cloning and self-repair. Bet you never heard this before, eh?

There's your brief review of the brief history of the future for you! Skip this book! It's either a joke or the author's written masturbatory fantasies about himself as an historian and thinker. Or, it simply could be, as I stated at the beginning, a very bad translation. I read Jacques Attali's earlier book, "Millenium," which is also about the future, and while wild in many senses, it wasn't incoherent as this book is.

P.S. The author does state that in the 22nd century, everything will get much better with the United Nations as our sole world government where everybody on the planet pays his or her green taxes.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 4, 2011 4:37:14 PM PDT
Constant says:
I listened to the French audio book version "Une brève histoire de l'avenir" and would say that the English translation is accurate, and that I agree with this review.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 4, 2011 4:46:29 PM PDT
Oh, merci, merci, merci! Vous etes si bon! Merci! J'aime que vous ecrivez ca.
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