Richard Worzel - Futurist - Speaker - Consultant

People often ask me how I manage to stay up with all the things going on in the world today. The simple answer is that I don't, and I don't think that anyone can. However, it's fun trying, especially if you like reading. Included here is a partial listing of books that you may find useful.

If you have a book (or books) that you think might relate to future studies that you'd like to let me know about, please contact me and send the name, author(s), publisher, and date - or whatever information you might have about it. I can't keep up with everything, and some of my best leads have come from other people tipping me off about some book or site of particular interest. Thanks!

Future Studies

Thinking About the Future: Guidelines for Strategic Foresight, Andy Hines and Peter Bishop (Social Technologies, Washington, D.C., 2006)
This book is overkill for anyone except professional futurists and major corporations embarking on large-scale strategic planning - or for anyone who wants to behave like either of these groups. Nevertheless, anyone can benefit from reading (or at least perusing) this book. It will plant seeds that will come to fruition when you're wondering what to do about the future, and give you tools that are largely common (or rather, uncommon) sense, but that you've never thought or heard about. It's a book you need to keep handy in your office, to dip into and consider when you're thinking about the future. Well worth having as a resource book.

The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World, Peter Schwartz (New York: Doubleday Currency, 1991)
An eminently readable book that can serve as a text on scenario planning. Based in part on the very successful work of the group of futurists who work for Royal Dutch Shell.

Future Search: An Action Guide to Finding Common Ground in Organizations & Communities, Marvin R. Weisbord & Sandra Janoff (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1995)
Weisbord & Janoff detail how an organization or a community can come up with a plan that involves everyone, including those people you don't want to include, to accomplish mutual goals that you thought were impossible. This approach will not work with those who are impatient and insist on having their own way, but it is a powerful tool for those who can manage it.

Scenario Planning: Managing for the Future, Gill Ringland (John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, U.K., 1998)
Peter Schwartz, author of "The Art of the Long View" reviewed above, wrote the foreward for this book, which is essentially a textbook about how to use scenario planning. Scenario planning is one technique that I use to help clients deal with an uncertain future. Since the future is inherently unpredictable, scenario planning sidesteps the necessity to predict by developing multiple possible futures, then looks for tell-tales or early warning signs to indicate which one is coming to pass. Think of it as the step before contingency planning.

2025: Scenarios of US and Global Society Reshaped by Science and Technology, Joseph F. Coates, John B. Mahaffie, and Andy Hines (Oakville Press, Greensville, North Carolina, 1997)
This is a series of possible future scenarios focussed primarily on the United States and the advent of techology. This book is actually one of the end results of an extended project commissioned by a number of major corporations to consider what the world will be like in the year 2025. It's not especially easy reading, nor particularly riveting, but hard slogging will be rewarded with quite a lot of interesting and useful insights.

The Economy and Employment

The Living Company: Habits for Survival in a Turbulent Business Environment, Arie de Geus (Harvard Business School Press, Boston, 1997)
Why do some companies survive, like the Hudson's Bay Company, founded in the middle of the 1600's, and others shine for a few short years, then disappear, with the average lifespan of a Fortune 500 company being somewhere between 40 and 50 years? De Geus was the head of the futurist planning group at Royal Dutch Shell, when his management asked him this question. He undertook to answer it, and, years later, long after he left Shell, he has published his answer. Intriguing reading, and important to those companies who intend to survive, especially in the turbulence of today's market.

Deflation: Why it's Coming, Whether it's Good or Bad, and How it Will Affect Your Investments, Business, and Personal Affairs, A. Gary Shilling (Lakeview Publishing Company, Shorthills, New Jersey, 1998)
Shilling is one of Wall Street's leading economists, and in this book he contends, in graceful prose, that economists and central bankers are fighting the last war instead of the next one. Shilling contends that inflation is no longer the problem, that deflation is now more worrisome, for if there is a persistent downward trend in prices, then consumers will step back and wait before buying, putting more downward pressure on prices, and creating a downward spiral of ever-declining economic activity. I don't see it myself, but Shilling's book makes for thoughtful, provokative reading - and he is, at least, saying something different from the rest of the pack.

The Future of Capitalism: How Today's Economic Forces Shape Tomorrow's World, Lester C. Thurow (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1996.)
Thurow is a professor of economics, a former dean of MIT's Sloan School of Management, and an articulate pessimist. His book is well written, well documented, and explains a great deal of what's going on around us.

Boom Bust & Echo: How to Profit from the Coming Demographic Shift, David Foot with Daniel Stoffman (Toronto: Macfarlane, Walter & Ross, 1996)
Foot is a professor of economics at the University of Toronto, which surprises a lot of people who think he's a demographer. He has studied demographics for more than 20 years because he believes it can be helpful in explaining some of the things going on in Canada today. However, much as I respect his work, his explanations are one-dimensional; two-thirds of the future cannot be predicted by demographics, as he contends. Nevertheless, a good, readable introduction to the field.

The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era, Jeremy Rifkin (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1995)
This book is two-thirds brilliant and one-third wastepaper. Rifkin's analysis of what is happening to the labour force is excellent, but his suggestions are lame, unworkable and a disappointing end to an otherwise terrific book.

Job Shock: Four New Principles Transforming Our Work and Business, Harry S. Dent, Jr (New York: St, Martin's Press, 1995)
Dent, like Rifkin, looks at what is happening in the job market these days. Unlike Rifkin, he comes up with specific proposals for companies and individuals to deal with the changes ahead. His proposals are intended for individual action, though, rather than institutional action, which is Rifkin's preference.

The Economist
This weekly British publication (which calls itself a newspaper) is, for my money, the best news magazine of its kind in the English language. It is fiscally conservative, socially liberal, highly opinionated, well reasoned, well written, and thoughtful.

Society and Government

On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense, David Brooks (2004)
Ever wondered why Americans exhibit a confusing mix of tacky commercialism and inspired idealism? Or why they always seem to be about to tip over into self-destructive degeneracy, and only to reinvent themselves as pious puritans on a regular basis? You're not alone - nor are these thoughts new: America has been baffling and confounding critics for hundreds of years, as New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks describes in his 2004 book, On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense. He traces the history of foreign criticisms of America, and discusses the perverse mix of cynicism and idealism that infuses America, then finally brings his themes to a startling conclusion.

The book is itself a strange amalgam, as if serving as an example of what it means to be American. It's well written and incisive, but its chapters alternate between glib, cocktail party chatter, and thoughtful, well-reasoned insights. This can get tiresome after a while, but if you have the stamina to get through it (or just read every other chapter), On Paradise Drive offers some intriguing insights into the American psyche.

Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity: Get Out the Shovel - Why Everything You Know is Wrong, John Stossel (Hyperion)
You will probably learn more from this book than you did at university. Stossel refutes common 'untruths'. DDT is bad? Nope, it saves lives. Red cars guarantee more speeding tickets? Myth. Outsourcing? Ultimately creates more jobs than it destroys. Written in a breezy style, but well researched with most of his findings irrefutable. Buy it. Read it. Absorb it and then have fun setting off verbal fireworks with your friends by shooting down the untrue 'truths'.

Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit Is Transforming the Public Sector, David Osborne and Ted Gaebler (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co., 1992.)
This book has become a bible among officials who are trying to continue delivering services on reduced budgets by making government more responsive and entrepreneurial.

Shakedown: How the New Economy Is Changing Our Lives, Angus Reid (Toronto: Doubleday, 1996)
Reid is best known as one of Canada's leading pollsters, but he was trained as a sociologist. He has a keen eye for what's happening in our society, as well as a deep concern for his compatriots and country.

The World in 2020: Power, Culture and Prosperity: A Vision of the Future, Hamish McRae (London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1994)
How will global power shift over the next 25 years? Which countries will dominate the global marketplace? Will America rise or fall? Hamish McRae, a former reporter with the Manchester Guardian, undertakes the task of answering these questions in prose that is crisp, clear, and free of jargon. His only significant omission (other than largely ignoring Canada) is that he hardly mentions Africa.

The Ecology and Environmentalism

Energy at the Crossroads: Global Perspectives and Uncertainties, Vaclav Smil (MIT Press: Cambridge, MA, 2003)
The climb in oil prices has spurred a renewed interest in the future of pertroleum, and reports of global warming and the disasters it might cause have spurred interest in energy sources and uses. Against this background comes a definitive book written by one of the leading experts on the future of energy called Energy at the Crossroads: Global Perspectives and Uncertainties. Vaclav Smil is a Distinguished Professor at the University of Manitoba who tackles the Big Picture in the use of energy, and does it with style and (mostly) readable prose. The issues are technical and complicated, but his approach is clear, straightforward, and comprehensible. Dr. Smil leads readers to a range of unusually rich and complex conclusions, without the typical, facile answers to which we've grown accustomed. You'll need to read this book the way you would a Russian novel: skimming over the polysyllabic words, and reading for context and gereral meaning rather than pondering every word. For instance, Dr. Smil says that carbon dioxide 'remains the most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas, and its rising emissions will be the main cause of higher tropospheric temperatures.' You know what he's saying as long as you just go with the flow, and his substantial research gives a broad, comprehensive overview of the future of energy. For instance, are we running out of oil? After some historical background, Dr. Smil says the cost of translating resources into reserves does not seem to be giving any signals of imminent exhaustion. This means we should see continued additions to global oil reserves for many years to come. The real challenge is 'to avoid the situation where the extraction of the remaining [petroleum] would be so expensive that it would distrupt economies and social structures'.

As I say, not a 30 second sound bite, but Smil supplies more insight than a decade of press releases by Exxon or Greenpeace. Take the time for this book - especially if you have investments in the energy field.

Costing the Earth: The Challenge for Governments, The Opportunities for Business, Frances Cairncross (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1992)
This is a economic perspective on environmental issues by a former editor of The Economist magazine, and provides a dimension that is too often lacking in environmental discussions: money. It's not enough to say we have to stop using cars, for instance; how many people would die if we did, and what are the odds we will be able to persuade them to do so to benefit the Earth's ecology? At the same time, businesses and governments are ignoring the very real costs of environmental effects. Hence, clear-cutting a forest shows up on a balance sheet only as income, not as the loss of an asset. Cairncross tackles these, and many related, subjects in a very different kind of environmental assessment book.

Eco-Scam: The False Prophets of Ecological Apocalypse, Ronald Bailey (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993)
Bailey does not equivocate: environmentalists are charletans pushing an agenda that makes no sense. To demonstrate his point, he points to environmental disasters that were predicted and did not happen. Paul Ehrlich, for instance, predicted in the 1970s that population growth would outstrip humanity's ability to feed itself, leading to widespread famines before the 1990s. The reverse has been true: food production has outstripped population growth and commodity prices are plumetting. Bailey's views are rather one-sided, but given that they come from a side that gets very little press or attention, they make interesting reading.

A Moment on the Earth: The Coming Age of Environmental Optimism, Gregg Easterbrook (New York: Viking Books, 1995)
Gregg Easterbrook is a misfit: he is neither an environmental doomsayer, nor an industrial exploitation apologist, like Ronald Bailey. For instance, he wrote an article for Newsweek magazine in 1993, outlining U.S. government findings that the air was cleaner in the United States in 1993 than it was in 1982. Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, chair of an important environmental subcommittee, brandished the article in a committee hearing, declaring himself "outraged" that Newsweek had dared to print the story. This, says Mr. Easterbrook, is typical of environmentalism today: only bad news is acceptable. This 698 page book tries to do what very few people want done: outline the facts of what is happening in the environment, both good and bad. This is a well-written, well-reasoned, and balanced assessment of where we are in ecological terms today, identifying both the progress we have made, and the problems we have not yet addressed, or are actually making worse. Easterbrook calls this "eco-realism", and it gives him cause for optimism. I agree with his thesis: environmentalists are, I believe, doing more harm than good by crying wolf too often, so that when an issue of real importance is raised, people don't realize that it is serious. Read this book if you want a more balanced view of the world, and our place in it. Avoid it if your only interest is to cry "wolf!" because it might present you with unfortunate facts that won't serve your ends.

Chaos: Making a New Science, James Gleick (New York: Penguin Books, 1987)
Chaos theory is a relatively new branch of mathematics that has far-ranging implications for everyday life. Chaotic systems tend to be very simple in concept, but lead to enormous complexity. Weather and climate are two chaotic systems, where a small change in one place can lead to a massive change elsewhere or elsewhen. The basic message is that not only are there things we do not know, there are things we cannot know. This is a sibering reality, especially in areas like the environment where many like to take a simple cause-and-effect view of how the world works. This popular best-seller is more than a decade old now, but still a wonderful introduction to a significant area of human knowledge. It is also a prerequisite for those who want to learn about complexity theory.

Health and Biosciences

Nature Via Nurture: Genes, Experience, and What Makes Us Human, Matt Ridley (Harper Collins, 2003)
A few things are finally starting to calrify in the debate over genetics, and particularly the question of nature versus nurture. The core of this debate is whether we are primarily determined by our heredity (nature) or by the way we are raised (nurture). It's a debate that was great for university bull sessions because it never seemed to have a definite answer. As we are learning more about both, and especially the genome, we're starting to realize that it's not one or the other that dominates, but the interaction of the two together. If this is a subject that interests you, and if you can stand some occasional heavy jargon, then Nature Via Nurture: Genes, Experience, and What Makes Us Human, by Matt Ridley (Harper Collins, 2003) is for you. It reviews the past theories of why we are the way we are, then gives today's thoughts about why we become (act, think, feel) the way we do. Moreover, the interplay between genes and upbringing appears to be far more involved than we ever thought, so that our environment can actually change our genetics, much as software can change the result produced by computer hardware. Indeed, as one student of the field put it, the human genome is not a blueprint, but a computer.

The End of Medicine, Andy Kessler (Collins)
Kessler a former technology analyst and successful Silicon Valley fund manager maintains that silicon is reshaping industries and that the health care is ripe for creative destruction by silicon. Similar to the Moore?s Law for chips, silicon gets cheaper by 30% every year and halves in price every two years. If silicon can make its way into detection and diagnosis, healthcare will get cheaper and better. CT scanners have started down the cost-efficiency curve similar to PCs and cell phones. Kessler predicts that we will see biomarkers and molecular imaging, all silicon based, that can detect unique proteins from cancer cells five years before cancer presents itself in a patient. If you are a health care investor, this a MUST read book.

The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance, Laurie Garrett (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994)
This book reads like a thriller, but its story line is all too real.

The Hot Zone, Richard Preston (Rockland, Mass.: Wheeler, 1994)
Similar to The Coming Plague, but focuses on the Ebola virus. Forewarned is forearmed.

Altered Fates: Gene Therapy and the Retooling of Human Life, Jeff Lyon and Peter Gorner (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1995)
Lyon and Gorner, journalists for the Chicago Tribune, won the Pulitzer Prize for their reportage on genetic research. This book reminds me of The Double Helix, the story of the discovery of the structure of DNA in that it is both readable as a human interest story and informative about an important emerging technology. It also discusses some of the practical and ethical dilemmas we'll face in employing these techniques. The good news flipside of The Coming Plague.

The Biotech Century: Harnessing the Gene and Remaking the World, Jeremy Rifkin (New York: Putnam, 1998)
Rifkin not only does a good job of describing some of the kinds of research that are being done in this field, but he discusses at length some of the unexpected, and often ominous consequences of playing God.

Reversing Human Aging, Dr. Michael Fossel (William Morrow and Company, New York: 1996)
Dr. Fossel moves past the edge of what we know, and speculates on longer life expectancy based on what might be. He also talks about some of the implications about longer lives on ourselves and society. If this research can be turned into a practical reality, then the most fundamental assumption underlying our society how long we expect to live will be changed, along with every other aspect of our lives and society. Scary.


Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, Neil Postman, (New York: Vintage Books , 1992)
Postman is one of the leading critics of technology, a lonely, dissenting voice warning about our overdependence on things and the loss of our relationships with people. You can pick up any of his books and find thoughtful, incisive, provocative reading. I've picked this one purely because it's on point. Needless to say, I both share some of his concerns (see "Soul Under Seige" in my book The Next 20 Years of Your Life), and disagree with him in other areas (I would no more think of writing a book with a paper, pencil, and manual typewriter than I would put my trust in bureaucrats.) Well worth reading.

Nano - The Emerging Science of Nanotechnology: Remaking the World Molecule by Molecule, Ed Regis (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1995)
This eminently readable account of Eric Drexler's life and work will surprise you with the possibilities of this largely unrecognized technology. For current information, you'll need to go to the Internet. Try as a starting point.

Metaman: The Merging of Humans and Machines Into a New Global Superorganism, Gregory Stock (Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 1993)
Stock's fascinating thesis is that humanity today forms a single, collective organism more powerful than any collection of individuals. For instance, he points out that no one individual, starting with only raw materials, could manufacture a modern computer. Computers, therefore, are a product of the human race, not of individual human beings.

The Millennial Project: Colonizing the Galaxy in Eight Easy Steps, Marshall T. Savage (Boston: Little, Brown, 1994)
This fascinating book is not intended as science fiction; it is a completely serious proposal to do exactly what the title says. Along the way, it offers simple solutions to such problems as energy supply, pollution, overpopulation, disease, and so on. Whether you believe Savage or not, this book will make you look at the cosmos in a different light. Maybe our problems are the result of thinking too small!

General Interest

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond (New York: Norton, 1997)
Every once in a while a book comes out of nowhere that is so unusual that it defies catagorization, crushes preconceptions, and provokes cries of admiration and anguish. Such a work is Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature, and has glowing endorsements from virtually every major publication in the English language, yet almost defies description. It's a history book written by a professor of physiology from the UCLA School of Medicine. It's about evolution, migration, culture, geology, anthropology, and a dozen other topics, yet it reads like a 480-page novel. It describes the history of human societies over the last 13,000 years.

Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces that Shape the Universe, Martin Rees (Basic Books, 1999)
Want to stretch your mind? This slim, elegantly readable volume will do it for you. Martin Rees is Professor of Cosmology at Cambridge University, and holds the honorary title of Astronomer Royal. According to Rees, the universe and life would not have been possible except for the precise values of six universal factors that determine how the universe works. These numbers include things like the strength of the electrical forces that hold atoms together; the amount of material in our universe; the strength of a hypothesized 'anti-gravity' that controls the expansion of the universe; and the number of dimensions (three, plus time). If any of these numbers had been even slightly different, our universe would not exist and life would not be possible. The infinitesimally small probability of this precise combination of values occurring raises questions of the existence of a Creator - or whether our universe is just one of an infinite number of 'multiverses' that contain all possible variations of reality.

Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, Robert Wright (Pantheon Books, 2000)
If cosmology doesn't challenge you, try teleology, the branch of philosophy that discusses whether there is an underlying purpose to existence. Wright argues that, viewed from a distance, the history of the emergence of life, through and beyond human beings, shows unmistakable signs of moving in a specific, well-defined direction. Although at the end of the book he speculates very cautiously about the nature of that direction (and the possible existence of a Director), he keeps at least one foot on hard scientific fact at all times, and never takes a real, speculative plunge. The result is a cautious marshalling of facts and observations, and a tantalizing exposition of why we're here, and where we may be going. He contends, for instance, that humanity is now a super-organism, with each individual being a component of a much larger, more powerful entity. You may not like the way he argues, or the conclusions he reaches, but he will provoke you to think about things we normally don't consider on a daily basis. Well-written, easily readable (although you may have to stop from time to time to think about what he's said), but can be maddeningly methodical - as you would hope from someone dealing in such a tenuous field.


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