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REVIEW - The Ingenuity Gap: How Can We Solve the Problems of the Future by Thomas Homer-Dixon.
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CLICK TO ORDER The Ingenuity Gap: How Can We Solve the Problems of the Future by Thomas Homer-Dixon.

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Amazon.com
As the world becomes more complex, so do its problems--and the solutions to these problems become tougher to grasp, writes University of Toronto professor Thomas Homer-Dixon in The Ingenuity Gap. "As we strive to maintain or increase our prosperity and improve the quality of our lives, we must make far more sophisticated decisions, and in less time, than ever before," he writes. Is the day coming in which our ingenuity can't keep up? Homer-Dixon fears that it is: "the hour is late," and we're blindly "careening into the future." What we face, he says, is a "very real chasm that sometimes looms between our ever more difficult problems and our lagging ability to solve them." There are moments when Homer-Dixon comes close to sounding like a modern-day Malthus, with his never-ending worries about population growth, the environment, the strength of international financial institutions, civil wars, and so on. Yet parts of this book are downright fascinating; at its best, The Ingenuity Gap reads like one of Malcolm Gladwell's stories for The New Yorker (or his book The Tipping Point).

Homer-Dixon is very good when he tackles particular problems, and his interests are wide-ranging, moving from the psychology of an airplane cockpit during a crisis to the depletion of the world's fisheries to differences between the minds of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens. He also dredges up fine details. Did you know that "the largest human-made structure on the planet is not an Egyptian pyramid or a hydroelectric dam but the Staten Island Fresh Kills landfill near New York City, which has a depth of one hundred meters and an area of nine square kilometers"? There's plenty to argue with on these pages, and some readers will find Homer-Dixon's tendency to write in the first person a bit self-indulgent. Yet fans of big-think books like Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, David Landes's The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, and Robert Wright's The Moral Animal will find The Ingenuity Gap riveting. --John J. Miller

From Scientific American
"In this book I'll argue that the complexity, unpredictability, and pace of events in our world, and the severity of global environmental stress, are soaring. If our societies are to manage their affairs and improve their well-being they will need more ingenuity- that is, more ideas for solving their technical and social problems." Homer-Dixon, associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto and director of the Peace and Conflict Studies Program there, cites markets and science as sources of the needed ideas. Markets provide an incentive to produce knowledge, he says, but the incentive is often skewed or too weak and produces wrong or inadequate solutions. In science, "there is often a critical time lag between the recognition of a problem and the delivery of sufficient ingenuity" to solve it. Acknowledging the astonishing adaptability and ingenuity that many societies and individuals have shown, Homer-Dixon nonetheless warns that the hour is late for coping with the world's problems. "When we look back from the year 2100, I fear we will see a period when our creations--technological, social, and ecological--outstripped our understanding, and we lost control of our destiny."

EDITORS OF SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

Thomas Hughes, "Closely reasoned, accessible and lucid. . . . Displaying impressive breadth of learning."

Book Description
"Looking back from the year 2100, we'll see a period when our creations--technological, social, ecological--outstripped our understanding and we lost control of our destiny. And we will think: if only--if only we'd had the ingenuity and will to prevent some of that. I am convinced that there is still time to muster that ingenuity--but the hour is late." --Thomas Homer-Dixon

In The Ingenuity Gap, Thomas Homer-Dixon asks: Is our world becoming too complex and fast-paced to manage? The challenges facing human societies--from international financial crises and global climate change to pandemics of tuberculosis and AIDS--converge, intertwine, and often remain largely beyond our understanding. Most of us suspect that the "experts" don't really know what's going on, and that we've released forces that are neither managed nor manageable. This is the "ingenuity gap," the term coined by Thomas Homer-Dixon, renowned political scientist and sometime adviser to the White House: the critical gap between our need for practical and innovative ideas to solve our complex problems and our actual supply of those ideas. He shows us how, in today's world, while poor countries are particularly vulnerable to ingenuity gaps, our own rich countries are no longer immune, and we are all caught dangerously between a soaring requirement for ingenuity and an increasingly uncertain supply. As the gap widens, political disintegration and violent upheaval can result, reaching into our own economies and daily lives in subtle, unforeseen ways. In compelling and lucid prose, he makes real the problems we face and suggests how we might overcome them--in our own lives, our thinking, our businesses, and our societies.

From the Back Cover

"This remarkable work, based on an impressive amount of scholarship, travel, and interviews, is the most persuasive forecast of the twenty-first century I have seen. Homer-Dixon looks beyond the miracle of technological and economic growth to the vast complexities of the real world that will increasingly put even the most advanced societies at risk."

Edward O. Wilson
University Research Professor and Honorary Curator in Entomology Harvard University, Museum of Comparative Zoology

"Homer-Dixon explores how the soaring complexities of our world create monumental challenges for our institutions and governments. This is a powerful book -- an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual journey to find answers to some of the most pressing problems of our time."

Senator Timothy E. Wirth
President, The United Nations Foundation

"At the beginning of the last century that great seer, H. G. Wells, wrote that humankind was engaged in a race between education and disaster. The world, he sensed, was becoming ever more complex and harder to manage. Each new invention brought unintended and often calamitous consequences as well as material benefits, and human minds could not always keep pace with the knowledge explosion."

"A hundred years later, and with the world changing at a much faster pace than in Wells' time, 'The Ingenuity Gap' offers an updated caution against human hubris. Homer-Dixon's casual, sometimes anecdotal prose is undergirded by serious scientific data and a truly global range of case-studies suggesting that the world is becoming a lot more complex than our minds can grasp or our capacities can handle. Recommended reading for those who are still in a millennial party mood."

Paul Kennedy
J. Richardson Dilworth Professor of History
Director, International Security Program Yale University

"At the beginning of the last century that great seer, H. G. Wells, wrote that An idea is only an idea if it causes unease, debate, and reflection. By that standard, Thomas Homer-Dixon's concept of an "ingenuity gap" is truly a new idea. I can think of no other new concept that so fully condenses all of the challenges we face as a human civilization than the "ingenuity gap." Homer-Dixon has found a way to unite all of our concerns about economics, war, population growth, complexity, etc. under a single heading. He is one of an elite group of academics who can write for a mass audience."

Robert Kaplan, author of Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History

About the Author
Thomas Homer-Dixon is Director of the Peace and Conflict Studies Program and Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Environment, Scarcity, and Violence. He lives in Toronto.

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