The Optimist’s Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age

Riverhead. Aug. 2019. 336p. notes. index. ISBN 9780735219472. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780735219496. ECON
Venkataraman (science, technology, society, MIT), senior adviser for climate change innovation during the Obama administration, writes a thought-provoking study of the implications of decisions in planning for the future, citing unfortunate short-term decisions made by policymakers to seek immediate satisfaction instead of planning for the long-term. Predicting the future is not enough, unless it is “paired with imagination,” she states. The author investigates what allows wisdom to prevail over recklessness in our choices. The first part of the book includes analysis of envisioning the future and draws on specific perspectives from sociologist Marshall Ganz and virtual reality expert Jeremy Bailenson. The second part features specific case studies of Sarah Cosgrove, who worked to bring attention to and prevent the overuse of antibiotics, and Marie Montessori’s innovative educational theories and school programs. Later chapters focus on lessons for scenario planning, including a discussion of decisions made during the Cuban Missile Crisis and World War II.
VERDICT An intriguing look at strategies for the long-term with citations from business executives, sociologists, and philosophers; highly recommended.

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