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The Meaning of the 21st Century Hardcover – August 3, 2006

4.3 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A freewheeling, sometimes scatterbrained romp through the technological challenges, dangers and opportunities facing the human race in the new century, the newest book by information age guru Martin is in equal measures exhilarating, thought provoking and just plain crazy in its zeal for emerging technologies. Martin, known for his influential The Wired Society (1978), believes that nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and other advances could not only moderate but eventually reverse the effects of global warming while giving us superhuman strength, superior intelligence and the possibility of living to 1,000 or beyond. On the potentials of supercomputing, Martin writes, "Human intelligence is very broad but relatively shallow, while machine intelligence is very narrow but can be miles deep." The first half of this assertion is well borne out by his book, which skips lightly from sobering discussions of cataclysmic climate change, massive natural disasters and terrorism to breathless riffs on hydroponics, pebble-bed nuclear reactors and "transhumanism." Often reading like a course catalogue for Oxford University's new James Martin Institute for Science and Civilization, the book should arguably have been split into two or three installments, but tech enthusiasts will find much to spur debate. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Martin, author of The Wired Society (1978), takes a look at the big issues facing us that can be leveraged to make significant changes in the future or that threaten human existence on Earth. Part 1 of the book explores the consequences of actions that are exhausting natural resources, including water, and will require drastic solutions. Part 2 examines technological advances that, while promising to increase efficiency and productivity, also promise to wreck the planet. Part 3 dramatically spells out the risks we face in this century, and part 4 describes the prospects for the future if we can manage to harness our natural resourcefulness to our benefit for generations. Martin examines crucial issues in politics, economics, religion, technology, culture, and the environment to look at a variety of challenges we face: poverty, war, globalism, terrorism, disease, existential risk, and transhumanism (radical changes in human beings themselves, thanks to technology). Martin argues that evolution has shifted from a force largely driven by nature to something that will be determined in the future by humankind. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover (August 3, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573223239
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573223232
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,280,897 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Randall Kritkausky on October 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In order to fully understand and appreciate James Martin's book, The Meaning of the 21st Century, the reader needs to understand the author. James Martin made his mark as a writer and entrepreneur by understanding and shaping significant trends long before others saw them or acted on them. His book, The Wired Society, published in 1977 anticipated new directions and uses of electronic communications that others could not envision. The world off electronic communications has now reshaped our world in the ways that James Martin anticipated three decades ago.

Martin has now applied his gift for grasping complex systems to the most complex and critical systems that we know: human society, the natural world, and their interdependence. He has interviewed and distilled the knowledge, insights, and wisdom of many of the world's most creative and courageous thinkers looking at these systems. Martin presents us with an image of serious dilemmas, choices and solutions that will allow us to answer the question of the 21st century's meaning. His book does not hesitate to outline potentially devastating environmental, social, and technological problems that we face. It examines the interconnections between these problems and assesses, in an objective and courageous manner unseen in the political realm, the likelihood that we will be able to address global crises requiring us to re-examine how we live and even think about what it means to be human.

Martin's vision is both jolting and hopeful; we are locked into some negative consequences of our actions in the realm of climate change, population growth, water shortages, etc.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In the last few years there have been many books written that warn of perils that will be faced in the next one hundred years. Typically written in haste, possessing only a small measure of predictive power, and resting on only a paucity of historical data, they serve only as activators for the amygdala, and the resulting anxiety they propagate only confuses rather than instructs. Rapid scientific and technological advances in all areas of knowledge has been popular to criticize, with the criticism being efficacious only to the extent that it keeps hidden the real understanding of the science and technology. Genetic engineering, molecular manufacturing, artificial intelligence, and experimental high energy physics are just some of the areas that have provoked fear into the hearts of many, but this fear is easily alleviated once the science behind them is understood.

This book does not represent one of these, but instead is a kind of hybrid. Its author is clearly attempting to raise concerns about developments or trends that he sees as threatening to the survival of the human species, if not the entire biosphere, but he also interjects some optimism. The author is repetitive, at times comes across as being too elitist, and some of his dialog may be too "New Age" ("nature as Gaia") for the more scientific reader. But the book is worth the time, if only to instill deeper investigations into the areas that the author deems the most threatening.

The author claims in the very first sentence that humans are on an unsustainable course that could be globally catastrophic, setting the tone for the underlying theme of the book, and also representative of some of the hype contained within its covers, with empirical evidence for various claims completely lacking.
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Format: Hardcover
The book is fast paced and (despite the weight of the topic) a very enjoyable read. James Martin is a genius, technology guru and optimistic futurist. His most recent book lets us see the world's great problems - and solutions - through his eyes. If the "best and brightest" pick up this book we may have a chance in the 21st Century. It should be every parent's responsibility to read it and then give it to their children. If you are going to have the time to read only one book this year about the influences that are shaping and defining your future and the world your kids are going to inherit, this is it. This book is a crash course on the thinking, geopolitics, technology and global economics needed to survive the 21st Century.

A basic theme of the book is that dramatic change is the rule for mankind's future and we can either control it or it will control us. All these changes, often exponential in their nature, are linked, and these linkages are identified and explained by Martin. There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle and they are examined just enough to put them in clear perspective. Examples are copious and fascinating. Accelerating depletion of resources, out-of-control population, China's economic bubble, pandemic diseases, nuclear terrorism - there is lot to think about here. It is a scary risk filled place we are going and that we are leaving for our children but throughout this exposé, Dr. Martin is an optimist, even faced with the many (impeccably researched) issues affecting the survival of mankind.

The book does a thorough job of covering all of the big issues - giving the reader enough information to pull the pieces together, get excited, form a question or head off on a path toward a more detailed analysis, and hopefully action.
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