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The 2011 Highlands Forum Reading List

Just in time for your holiday shopping, the Highlands Forum 2011 Reading List features thirty books (mostly non-fiction, but including five works of fiction and one volume of poetry this year), covering biography, management, economics, history, information technology, techno thrillers, science fiction, neuroscience, creativity and innovation, comparative politics and sociology, contemporary conflict studies, and current events. Among these, we have four books recommended by guest reviewers. Our distinguished panel of guest editors this year includes Parag Khanna, April Rinne, Stephen Kosslyn, and Dave Snowden.

Our list is divided into three categories: books recommended by our guest reviewers; books recommended by the Highlands Forum staff; and books used in researching this year's Highlands Forum meetings. Most titles are new; some are classics worth discovering for the first time. They have been selected for their themes and for their capacity to broaden our understanding of emerging issues and inform the way we think about things. We began compiling an annual list in 2000, and it is a continuing work - additional titles are added during the year and compiled at the end of each year in a larger list. Visit the site to peruse our lists for 2000-2010.

Recommendations By Guest Editors

April Rinne

April Rinne is the global director of Water.org's WaterCredit initiative. She arrived at Water.org after nearly a decade focused on international microfinance, where she worked with dozens of microfinance institutions (MFIs), investment funds and organizations seeking to expand access to capital in the developing world. WaterCredit represents a unique opportunity to put microfinance tools and access to catalytic capital to work to address the needs of the poor for clean, safe water. Rinne was selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum for 2011. She is also a member of the Board of Directors, World Wide Web Foundation. Rinne earned her J.D. at Harvard Law School, her M.A. in International Finance and Development Economics at the Fletcher School of Tufts University, and her B.A. summa cum laude in International Relations from Emory University. April's book recommendation for us is The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water.

cover of book: The Big
The Big Thirst

by Charles Fishman

"The Big Thirst is about water: this history of water, the future of water, and - most important - the myriad, complex and often counter-intuitive facets of humanity's relationship(s) to water. With a style that's easy to read, conversational and at times downright jaw-dropping, Fishman makes the reader re-think her notions of what water is, what it means, how much it really costs (and should cost), and the ways in which our fundamental premises of water are set to undergo massive transformation in the light of climate change and population growth. He does this through a fascinating set of lenses and experiences: from water fountain policy in Las Vegas to Australian sheep farmers, IBM's "ultra-pure smart water", India's complicated relationship with the Ganges, and water in outer space. I work in/with the water sector regularly and had been hesitant to read this book, fearing it would be polarizing, political or worse. Quite the contrary, in fact: I was pleasantly surprised at its open candor and willingness to take a 360-degree view to the issues at stake. What's more, even I will never look at water in the same way again. A highly recommended read for anyone anywhere who requires water to survive - a hugely important issue at perhaps the most critical time in modern human history".

Stephen Michael Kosslyn

Stephen Michael Kosslyn is an American psychologist who specializes in the fields of cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience. He is the director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. Kosslyn received his B.A. from UCLA and his Ph.D. in from Stanford University, both in psychology. Kosslyn is known primarily for his research and theories on mental imagery. His book recommendation for us is The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence, Its Indispensable National Role, Why It Must Be Protected.

cover of book: The
    Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence, Its Indispensable National
    Role, Why It Must Be Protected
The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence, Its Indispensable National Role, Why It Must Be Protected

by Jonathan R. Cole

"I've been struck repeatedly by an apparent paradox: K-12 education in the United States is generally not wonderful, whereas our university system is without question the best in the world. How can this be? Jonathan Cole's book provides facts that go a long way toward answering that question. Professor Cole traces the history of the modern research university, and explains what makes it tick. In discussing the various factors that apparently have contributed to the unprecedented success of our research universities (at least since the 1930s), it becomes clear that we should not take their continued preeminence for granted. In fact, it is by no means certain that our universities will remain at the top of the heap at the end of the current century unless they are actively supported and nurtured. This book puts our research universities in a broader context, and provides the spark to initiate a much-needed national discussion. In so doing, it raises at least as many questions as it answers; for example, after reading this book, I wondered about how best to: structure the relationship between universities and private enterprise, organize teaching and research, leverage the interactions that already take place among faculties at different institutions (including ones in other countries), and have government monitor and regulate research at universities. Professor Cole alludes to many such questions, but does not attempt to answer them definitively. Depending on how such questions are resolved, our research universities can continue to thrive or will gradually wither on the vine. As Professor Cole makes clear, these questions are not just of academic interest".

Parag Khanna

Parag Khanna is a Senior Research Fellow in the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation. He is author of the international bestseller The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order (2008) and How to Run the World: Charting a Course to the Next Renaissance (2011). In 2008, Parag was named one of Esquire's "75 Most Influential People of the 21st Century," and one of fifteen individuals featured in WIRED magazine's "Smart List." Parag is widely published and quoted in media around the. He holds a PhD from the London School of Economics, and Bachelors and Masters degrees from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Born in India, Parag grew up in the United Arab Emirates, New York, and Germany. He has traveled to more than 100 countries and has been named a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum. Parag's book recommendation for us is Why the West Rules-for Now.

cover of book: Why
    the West Rules - For Now
Why the West Rules - For Now

by Ian Morris

"Ian Morris provides the 150,000 year history of globalization in the context of the great divergence of human societies out of Africa eastward and westward. For most of human history, migrating communities displayed a relative equivalent degree of "social capacity," the consistent concept that Morris uses throughout the book to measure the degree of development/modernization. Only in the 18th and 19th centuries during the Industrial Revolution did the West's degree of "social capacity" truly outstrip that of the East, but the gap is closing quickly today through the East's acquisition of modern technology and political structures. The book is important in several respects. It reminds that globalization is a perpetual process that cannot be switched on and off, even by financial crises or pandemics. Furthermore, he underscores Samuel Huntington's vital insight of a half-century ago that modernization does not equal Westernization. Rather it is about the capacity for social, economic, and technological management. Lastly, Morris braves some provocative long-term scenarios about the fate of our collective civilization. Our fusion with technology could have unintended and dangerous consequences, and resource scarcity as well could portend civilizational collapse. Even if neither of these scenarios transpires, together they already render conventional understandings of geopolitics irrelevant. Morris, then, is prescient not only about the past but also the future".

Dave Snowden

Dave Snowden is Director of the Cynefin Centre for Organisational Complexity that focuses on the development of the theory and practice of social complexity. The Centre spun off from IBM in July 2004 to allow it greater freedom to explore new transdiciplinary and participatory approaches to research and the creation of an open source approach to management consultancy. The Cynefin framework which lies at the heart of the approach has been recognized by several commentators as one of the first practical application of complexity theory to management science and builds on earlier pioneering work in Knowledge Management. A native of Wales, he was formerly a Director in the IBM Institute for Knowledge Management where he led programmes on complexity and narrative. He pioneered the use of narrative as a means of knowledge disclosure and cross-cultural understanding. Dave Snowden has an MBA from Middlesex University and a BA in Philosophy from Lancaster University. Dave's recommendation for us is Neal Stephenson's new novel, Reamde.

cover of book: Reamde

by Neal Stephenson

Reamde, the name of a computer virus which is an anagram of the pervasive README file is a new departure for Neil Stephenson. I first encountered him through the wonderfully inventive Baroque Cycle, moved on to Cryptonomicon and from there to the more conventionally science fiction of Snow Crash and Anathem. All of those novels are baroque is style, interweaving multiple concepts, exploring the implications of novel technology, thinking through complex culture issues. Reamde has many of those features, but at its heart it is a well constructed, can't put it down, old-fashioned thriller. It has, as you would expect from Stephenson, some novel ideas. The use of an elaborate multi-user game to act as a money-laundering device for one, and given the author the virtual and the real intertwine throughout the story. There is a great set of multi-cultural characters that include the British MI6 agent, the Hungarian hacker, an Eritrean adoptee, a former marijuana smuggler turned corporate executive. All of that before we get onto Russian mobsters and a Welsh-born, black Moslem-convert terrorist called Jones (well, it had to be really). The story moves with ease between British Columbia, China and the Philippines added the sort of nuanced data that Stephenson fans have come to expect. The plot lines and coincidences run close to the edge, but are always credible. There are a few stereotypes in some of the characters, but they work and while evil is clearly evil there is enough ambiguity amongst the good to make it interesting. It's not his greatest book, it doesn't result in a frantic buying spree on Amazon to search out the basis for some of his ideas which the other books do, but it's a really, really good read.

Books Recommended By The Highlands Forum Staff

cover of book: America
    the Vulnerable: Inside the New
    Threat Matrix of Digital Espionage, Crime, and Warfare
America the Vulnerable: Inside the New Threat Matrix of Digital Espionage, Crime, and Warfare

by Joel Brenner

From his perches as senior counsel and inspector general at NSA and national counterintelligence executive at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Joel Brenner undoubtedly had a close-up look at cybersecurity threats to U.S. national security. Unfortunately those threats are as much economic as physical, he writes, and even more so in the case of the U.S.'s biggest trading partner. Brenner calmly lays out the case that the U.S. faces a China continually angling to return to relative dominance in Asia. But do the Chinese want open war or cyberwar? Far from it, Brenner answers, "yet conflict is the reality, even in the midst of a mutually advantageous relationship. For the foreseeable future our relationship with China will continue to involve constant struggle for unilateral advantage, even as we seek common ground and mutual advantage." The result is that U.S. corporate and government networks and their intellectual property are under constant attack by other nation-states and their sympathizers. But as Brenner told an interviewer elsewhere, cybersecurity is not a technological problem as much as a management problem: "If you don't know who's on your network and you don't know what hardware and software are on your network, and you let all kinds of unauthorized and often suspect hardware and software connect to your network and you don't know what traffic's going through your network, you don't control your own network." Brenner ends by writing that the new age of cybersecurity involves separating what is truly secret and crucial from the rest of your data, then paying a lot of attention to the dissemination and handling of the most important information. But that's just the start of his prescription: We need to be proactive and inside attackers' networks before they attack us, just as the Chinese are inside our networks now.

cover of book: Calculating
Calculating Catastrophe

by Gordon Woo

Gordon Woo tries to understand why catastrophes happen and how they're related, rather than simply what their immediate consequences are. Woo, a professional catastrophist with Risk Management Solutions, has consulted for large insurance concerns about risk management, with BP on its offshore oil-drilling operations, and with the International Atomic Energy Agency on seismic safety. Woo's concerns extend beyond comparing different types of financial events with one another, seeking patterns in the comparison of financial catastrophes and natural disasters. And what do earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and hurricanes have to do with political violence and industrial accidents? As Woo puts it:

"There are common roots in their calculational framework which make a knowledge of natural hazards relevant for those aspiring to deepen their understanding of man-made hazards, and to lessen the degree of surprise they may cause".

Woo notes that, in the case of earthquakes, minor tectonic events may become major only when conditions around them are well-suited to amplify the small earthquake's consequences, an idea that has straightforward application to man-made events such as terrorist attacks and the 2008 financial crisis.

cover of book: Insurgents,
    Raiders, and Bandits: How Masters
    of Irregular Warfare Have Shaped Our World
Insurgents, Raiders, and Bandits: How Masters of Irregular Warfare Have Shaped Our World

by John Arquilla

John Arquilla is a regularly reviewed and interviewed subject on the Highlands Forum webpage, just as he is all over the media landscape, and with very good reason. His has been the leading voice (along with the co-author of many of his early, now classic works, David Ronfeldt) on cyber, networks, conflict, and irregular warfare long before we ever engaged in those very different forms of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has been the clear eye seeing these social, technical, and military trends before they developed. It would be fair to say that he is still waiting for adoption of strategies that take full advantage of the concepts he has been discussing for well over a decade. In his latest work Arquilla takes a look back to give his audience (especially those who don't see what he has been writing about prescriptively over the past two decades) historical cases that display the very principles he points to in the present. He points to "inferior" forces using imagination and skill, leveraging the weaknesses of "superior" forces, with cases ranging from Nathaniel Greene in the U.S. Revolutionary War to Robert Rogers in the French and Indian War to Nathan Bedford Forrest in the Civil War; in less well-known, non-American cases he points to leaders such as General Giap of North Vietnam and Chechen rebel Aslan Maskhakov. While his cases all differ from each other in minor and significant ways, each is fascinating and illuminating in their own manner. These wars, these leaders, may be forgotten by many, but Arquilla brings them new life, examining each one against our contemporary conflicts, and recognizing the continuing truths that each one demonstrates. Arquilla always writes important books and writes well. This is a collection of cases that should remind us of where we have been, what we have forgotten, and where we are headed.

cover of book: In
    the Plex: How Google Thinks,
    Works, and Shapes Our Lives
In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives

by Steven Levy

In some ways Google and the U.S. armed forces face similar challenges. Both have gone through a decade of rapid growth, and both face new competitors and new challenges to their business models. Steven Levy describes a Google that has dealt with its massive growth by finding ways to fool itself into acting like a small organization. For example, CEO Larry Page has all his division chiefs sit in the same room a few afternoons a week and work from there-still supervising their operations, but all available for immediate consultation with peers should their interaction generate useful sparks. At these times, giant Google, Incorporated effectively shrinks to the size of that conference room, a throwback to the days when the company numbered only a few dozen. Google also retains its famously grueling hiring process, to the point that co-founder Sergey Brin still signs off on every new hire personally, even though the company now numbers 23,000 employees. The occasional wart makes it between the covers, and Levy also covers Google's efforts to expand into China and how that drive led it astray from its "don't be evil" motto. In the main, though, readers interested in how Google has managed to function and excel in a highly competitive environment (think Facebook), yet successfully manage challenges that the DoD also struggles with-speed, experimentation, risk-taking and openness-will be fascinated.

cover of book: Into
    the Silence: The Great War,
    Mallory and the Conquest of Everest
Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest

by Wade Davis

We have long had a penchant for featuring discoverers and explorers on the Highlands Forum website. Five years ago we did a feature interview with the remarkable Abigail Alling, who lived in the Biosphere, dove the coral reefs of the oceans as head of the Planetary Coral Reef Foundation, and managed the design and development of the Mars on Earth project. Over a decade ago, noted architect and explorer Travis Price III introduced us to his colleague, Wade Davis, a Canadian anthropologist, ethnobotanist, author and photographer. Davis is an Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society and named as one of the Explorers for the Millennium, and has been described as a "rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet, and passionate defender of all of life's diversity". He was beginning to work on a book that he wanted to tell us about, one that sounded more like a novel of high adventure than a scholarly history. Just in time for Christmas, Knopf has published Davis's remarkable book, hailed as "magnificent", "magisterial", and "exhilarating"; a bestseller selected as an editor's pick, book of the month and book of the year. Wade's book, which took him more than a decade to write, is an account of the first British attempts to climb Mount Everest in 1921-24, all against the backdrop of the Great War. It is the first such account to trace the lives of the climbers through the agony of the Western Front, and to tell the story of the expeditions from both the British and Tibetan perspectives. It is that and much more. His writing is beautiful, his story breathtaking. Most highly recommended.

cover of book: Jerusalem

by Simon Sebag Montefiore

"Jerusalem is the universal city, the capital of two peoples, the shrine of three faiths; it is the prize of empires, the site of Judgement Day and the battlefield of today's clash of civilizations".

Jerusalem is a sprawling history, or in the construct given to it by Cambridge historian and author Simon Sebag Montefiore, a biography. It is a biography in the sense that it is about the city come to life as a living, breathing human; in the sense that it is a story told about a cast of thousands; and in the construct that Montefiore uses to tell the story, with each chapter about a major character personifying Jerusalem. Montefiore is a remarkable storyteller, with a list of award-winning histories to his credit; he also has a strong attachment to Jerusalem-he is descended from a famous line of wealthy Sephardic Jews who became diplomats and bankers all over Europe. At the start of the 19th century, Simon's great-great uncle, Sir Moses Montefiore, became a banking partner of N. M. Rothschild & Sons, rose to be Sheriff of London, was knighted by Queen Victoria, and was a philanthropist for the Jewish community in Palestine. The family name is still revered in Jerusalem, where he built a hospital and a windmill for grinding grain. His "constant dream was that Jerusalem [is] destined to become the seat of a Jewish empire". This dream, whether it is a Jewish empire or one belonging to the many conquerors or inhabitants over its 5,000 + year history, is echoed throughout the younger Montefiore's book. To be sure, Jerusalem's story is a brutal one, where hundreds of crucifixions each day are common; where tens of thousands die in the most unspeakable manner over the course of a weekend siege; where the most revered sites in the three religions that occupy or share Jerusalem are destroyed with purpose. It is also by turn a fascinating and complex account of adventurers, holy men, conquerors, and leaders of political intrigues, the detail of which gives this book the sense of an epic film. Montefiore begins by giving the reader a sense of this epic perspective, fittingly (and biographically) entitled The World of David: "When David captured the citadel of Zion, Jerusalem was already ancient". This is a most compelling series of familiar and strange stories that form one-one that will reward you for staying the course.

cover of book: Millennial
    Momentum: How a New Generation is
    Remaking America
Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America

by Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais

In their previous book reviewed here, Millennial Makeover, Morley Winograd and Michael Hais focused on the use of social group-forming technology by the millennial generation. "They described the millennials as "the most ethnically diverse generation in American history... more positive... more tolerant, desiring to find 'win-win' solutions, adept at using peer-to-peer technologies." Paired with new networking technologies and social media, the authors predicted, "The end result will be major changes in the style, tone, and structure of America's government, politics, and society." Four years later they have published their new book, Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America, to examine the effect of that cohort's beliefs and practices are influencing all aspects of American life and culture. This is an optimistic book, a challenge to those who don't look any deeper than the charge levied that this generation suffers from an enlarged sense of entitlement (it's more like they see themselves as peers and like to negotiate). Culling through reams of recent demographic data, the authors describe the Millennials as tolerant, collaborative, diverse, and technologically savvy, never having not known the Internet or networks as part of their oxygen. Winograd and Hais point to this generation's civic involvement as proof that we can overcome the political divisions and institutional gridlock that keeps us from succeeding. If you are looking for a better understanding of the values and motivations of an entire generation, one poised to lead soon, one that admittedly sees the glass as more than half full, this would be the book.

cover of book: Steve
Steve Jobs

by Walter Isaacson

Steve Jobs's biographer, Walter Isaacson, had remarkable access to his subject, conducting 40 interviews over two years. Remarkably for one of the world's most celebrated controlling personas, Jobs apparently made no effort to influence Isaacson's final product, even encouraging friends and colleagues to speak candidly with him. This was one of Jobs's final amazing feats, considering that his style of fooling enemies and friends (and perhaps himself in his less self-reflective moments) became known as the Reality Distortion Field. Jobs' death, at the height of his creative powers and corporate success, coincided almost exactly with the biography's publication, making Steve Jobs required reading for anyone seeking to understand its subject's genius as a marketer and success as a two-time leader of Apple. Isaacson doesn't ignore Jobs's flaws as a human being-the arrogance, the tantrums, and the hygienic lapses-but the book's real appeal is in explaining how Jobs got others to do the seemingly impossible. Whether he used soaring inspirational talks or deeply personal and profane brow-beating, Jobs inspired Apple teams to develop smart, elegant devices that freed users to be creative rather than spend their energies learning to program. Along the way, he inspired loyalty even from those he screamed at, creating a level of mission focus that was all the more remarkable in do-your-own-thing Silicon Valley. As Isaacson said in a recent interview, "[Jobs] could be petulant and rough, but this was driven by his passion and pursuit of perfection. ... He was a genius at connecting art to technology, of making leaps based on intuition and imagination. He knew how to make emotional connections with those around him and with his customers."

cover of book: Thinking,
    Fast and Slow
Thinking, Fast and Slow

by Daniel Kahneman

Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman presented to the Highlands Forum several years ago when were considering elements of decision-making, networks, and deterrence. His seminal work has been decision-making under conditions of uncertainty, and he has a number of new points to make about how we reach decisions. Kahneman, who along with Amos Tversky has done more than any other person to puncture the idea that humans make decisions rationally, divides our thought processes into an intuitive, emotional "fast" System 1 and a more deliberative, more logical System 2. Each has strengths and weaknesses; System 1's virtue is speed, but its Achilles heel is relying on preformed biases. System 2 kicks in when you do or decide on something slower or more complex, and although it is powerful, System 2 is biased toward conserving energy and spending the minimal resources needed to get the job done. Remarkably, the two systems work together but don't necessarily complement one another; in fact, each may multiply the other's errors, and System 1 tends to stay in the driver's seat for better or worse. Luckily, System 1 actually does get it right a lot of the time, even while committing various cognitive sins: overconfidence, loss aversion, and the sunk-cost fallacy-the failure to cut our losses when we realize we're in too deep. Given too little information to make a good decision about two alternatives, System 1 will still make a decision-although Kahneman notes that experts can train their System 1 pattern recognition over time to produce good answers quickly. But policymakers beware: This is useful mainly in tactical situations rather than slow-burn phenomena such as parsing Middle East politics. Thinking, Fast and Slow is a valuable summation of all that's known about how irrational our supposedly rational decision-making processes are-and just as importantly, how to recognize the situations in which you're most likely to make irrational decisions and need to slow down, take a breath, and kick System 1 out of the driver's seat.

cover of book: Worm: The First Digital World War

Worm: The First Digital World War

by Mark Bowden

Worm, the new non-fiction book from Blackhawk Down author Mark Bowden, reads like a novel, in fact a techno-thriller. At the very opening of the book, there is a list of "Principal Characters", which only goes to cement that thought. As you scroll down through the alphabetized list of characters, the very last name catches your (certainly our) attention-Rick Wesson. Described as "one of the founding (and most controversial) members of the Cabal, who initiated the strategy of containing Conficker by anticipating and buying up domain names generated by the worm's algorithm. Yes, that is our Rick Wesson, he of the many fascinating presentations at various Highlands Forum sessions. Perhaps we should back up a bit.

Worm is the story of the Cabal that self-organized beginning in 2008, when they noticed some very strange activity on the Internet that didn't look right-or good. At first uncertain what it was or what to make of it, it quickly became clear that this vast collection of bots that had formed an enormous single network known as a botnet, began to overpower computers and networks in a malevolent manner. Upon notifying the US government of the scale and scope of the problem, the small group that had shared resources to find and fight the botnet began to feel that perhaps the government didn't really know much about it or what to do about it. Bowden swings into full combat mode as the Cabal forms and creates a strategy for fighting the Conficker worm. He follows their struggles, both internal and external, to find the right path and technologies, while making sure that the group did not blow apart during the fight. Which brings us back to mild-mannered Rick Wesson, who ended up using his credit card to buy up as many domains as he could afford, and passionately tried to rally Silicon Valley and Washington, DC to help in the cause. There are two ways to get this story: read this true thriller from Mark Bowden, and sit down over a coffee or beer with Rick. Both will leave you breathless.

cover of book: Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage
Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage

by David Ignatius

Washington Post reporter and frequent Highlands Forum contributor David Ignatius has written an eighth thriller, this time highlighting the whose-side-are-you-really-on world of the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan and, inevitably, Pakistan. Sophie Marx is part of a new, beyond-secret CIA operations unit called Hit Parade that's dedicated to buying peace with the warlords who oppose U.S. actions in Afghanistan. But someone is killing Hit Parade operatives off as they travel the world with bags of cash; the unit has a leak, but who? Marx must unravel the answer, a job that takes her from Hit Parade's unlikely San Fernando Valley headquarters to London to South Waziristan. As usual, Ignatius taps into the questions of greatest concern to the intelligence community and the Defense Department: How much do you really know your friends and adversaries? How do you inculcate an understanding of individuals and their cultures in your organization? And how do you keep people focused on the mission rather than careerism, especially when your opponents focus on nothing but the mission? Interestingly, Ignatius shows many perspectives besides Marx's, including the thoughts and actions of a brilliant terror mastermind, a Western-educated Pakistani general, and others not usually accessible to U.S. readers, all of whom are on their own quests for answers.

cover of book: Einstein's
Einstein's Dreams

by Alan Lightman

It's about time! Yes, that is the theme of this fascinating, now classic work of fiction Einstein's Dreams, by Alan Lightman, poses thirty different elements of the theory of time as individual dreams (worlds, some of which require us to meet our Creator, all of which require us confront ourselves) in the mind of the great Albert Einstein when he was a patent clerk in Berne, Switzerland. The dreams, by turn, are humorous, existential, and always provocative. What is amazing is not just that these dreams explore the various aspects of the theory of relativity and make it somewhat more approachable, but that Lightman uses dreams that many of his readers will find all-too-familiar. With many of us placed inside these dreams, we find ourselves not just entertained, and stimulated to think about the grander ideas Lightman wants us to encounter, but we find ourselves wondering where the time went when we are finished interacting with this slim volume.

cover of book: Luminarium

by Alex Shakar

Continuing with our curious fascination on the theme of dreams in this year's list, Luminarium is one of the most interesting and confounding novels we have run across in several years. By some measure it is a combination of Michael Chabon's great use of language and ideas (think The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction in 2001) and Neal Stephenson's best efforts at taking us into new imaginings (see The Diamond Age and Snow Crash). Alex Shakar's novel unfolds slowly presenting the reader with the relationships among a set of two very close brothers (one now if a hospital coma), as well as a third, younger brother, with whom they are decidedly not very close, who began a software company to create highly detailed virtual worlds for commercial and military use. While visiting his brother George in the hospital, Fred Brounian does all that he can to wish and will him back to a state of being "just like it was before"; time passes and nothing changes. To kill time while visiting, Fred notices an ad for volunteers to take part in a brain/dream study at the university hospital where George is a patient. Broke, since their company was plucked away from these non-business savvy brothers, Fred begins the study, which does compensate him, as well lead him into a world of consciousness where his life changes both during the tests (which involves brain stimulation) and in the days following each session. Are these things actually happening to him, or is this the product of the pycho-stimulation? Is his brother George actually trying to communicate with him? The lines between the experiment and reality have blurred. This is a mystery, a near-past science fiction (set on the fifth anniversary of 9-11), and a philosophical treatise about the nature of perception, consciousness, reality, spirituality of all kinds, and belief. It covers a grand scale, sometimes sprawling, and Shakar, whose previous works have been critically acclaimed, is a master of language. With each session in the brain experiment, hunkered down in the lab with the "God helmet" and wires transmitting stimuli in and out; with each session talking to his brother George in the coma or flashing back to their younger days with their father in his magic act; or by turns coming to grips with what is happening inside the virtual worlds their younger brother is creating, this is a fascinating book, but one that will unfold at is own pace of introducing even more ideas just when you want the mystery to take center stage; it is a "big book" in many ways, and it is a challenge worth accepting.

cover of book: Sum: Forty Tales From the Afterlives
Sum: Forty Tales From the Afterlives

by David Eagleman

Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives is a remarkable little book that will both comfort and discomfort you at the same time. Rivaling Einstein's Dreams as both the shortest (just over one hundred small pages) and most personal books on our list, Sum presents forty short, different vignettes of what the afterlife might be like. In many ways it has the feel of the personal and private nature that Einstein's Dreams conveyed. Some of these short tales are poignant, others are more painful, and fortunately in their and our foibles, some can make us laugh (quietly that is, after all this is the afterlife we are talking about). Best read in random order, and only a few at a time-fair warning-Sum begins with his first view of the world to come with,

"In the afterlife you relive all your experiences, but this time with the events reshuffled into a new order: all the moments that share a quality are grouped together... Fifteen months looking for lost items. Eighteen months waiting in line. Two years of boredom: staring out a bus window, sitting in an airport terminal. One year reading books

(not the books on this list!)". Neuroscientist and author David Eagleman makes us take a long, long look at ourselves and what we think, what we believe, and what we want to believe through the course of these afterlives. In the final chapter, Reversal, Eagleman tells us:

"There is no afterlife, but that doesn't mean we don't get to live a second time... (in the fashion of Benjamin Button) babies climb back into the wombs of their mothers, who eventually shrink and climb back into the wombs of their mothers, and so on like concentric Russian dolls... At the moment of reversal you are genuinely happy, for while life must be lived forward the first time, you suspect it will really be understood only upon replay... Reversing through the corridors of your life, you are battered and bruised in the collisions between reminiscence and reality. By the time you enter the womb again, you understand as little about yourself as you did your first time here".

cover of book: Beloved
    Spirit: Pathways to Love, Grace,
    and Mercy
Beloved Spirit: Pathways to Love, Grace, and Mercy

by Alexandra Villard de Borchgrave

Ten years ago, Alexandra Villard de Borchgrave appeared on our annual reading list with a marvelous biography, Villard: The Life and Times of an American Titan. It was the story of Henry Villard, one of America's great "titans" of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He was present at the great events that forged the nation, shaped the ideas and opinions of generations, and built the industrial and technological foundation of twentieth-century America. And then came September 11, 2001. Alexandra, like so many of us, was overwhelmed by the events of that day and she looked for a way to bring comfort to those who had suffered the worst loss imaginable. She found inspiration and turned to poetry to channel it. She has now published three volumes of poetry, Healing Light, Heavenly Order, and Beloved Spirit, and established the Light of Healing Hope Foundation as another outlet of assistance to those who have experienced painful loss through war, natural disaster, or disease. Her latest volume, Beloved Spirit, is a beautiful and peaceful blending of poetry and art, in which Julian Raby, the Director of the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Art writes, "she has excerpted details from one of the most famous illustrated Persian manuscripts... the images form a sequence that has an overarching narrative, as they follow the light and shades of a passing day, reminding us that, like all creatures, we are in this world for a fleeting moment". One of her essential messages is that of Hope:

...hope may be found in the heart's own strength,
Still stalwart and true on its lonely perch;
Persevere though gales of grief may mount,
As daring may open new paths to search.

Books Used In Preparation For The 2011 Highlands Forum Meetings

cover of book: The
    Collapse of Complex Societies
The Collapse of Complex Societies

by Joseph A. Tainter

In one of our first conversations with Andy Marshall some seventeen years ago he advised that "if you want a new idea, you should read an old book". As we looked for interesting ideas to help focus the theme for Highlands Forum XLIV, "Failure and Collapse in Complex Systems", we ran across an old book that indeed gave us some new ideas. In 1988, Joseph Tainter wrote The Collapse of Complex Societies, in which he examined several societies that arrived at a level of sophistication, and then suddenly collapsed. His case studies included the Western Roman Empire, the people of the Chaco Canyon, and the Lowlands Maya. Our Highlands Forum colleague Clay Shirky, in writing a blog post last year titled The Collapse of Complex Business Models, cited Tainter's book and wrote: "Every one of those groups had rich traditions, complex social structures, advanced technology, but despite their sophistication, they collapsed, impoverishing and scattering their citizens and leaving little but future archeological sites as evidence of previous greatness. Tainter asked himself whether there was some explanation common to these sudden dissolutions. The answer he arrived at was that they hadn't collapsed despite their cultural sophistication, they'd collapsed because of it". Tainter sees collapse as a matter of energy, of simplification of an already complex system. As we build our societies we add levels of sophistication, of specialization, or complexity, to make things work better. He tells us that complexity is a problem-solving strategy to solve society's most difficult problems, and we continue to add complexity. But, over time each layer of complexity delivers less value for the input invested, and "once a complex society enters the stage of declining marginal returns, collapse becomes a mathematical likelihood, requiring little more than sufficient passage of time to make probable an insurmountable calamity". Shirky continues: "When the value of complexity turns negative, a society plagued by an inability to react remains as complex as ever, right up to the moment where it becomes suddenly and dramatically simpler, which is to say right up to the moment of collapse. Collapse is simply the last remaining method of simplification". Tainter served as the keynoter for the Forum on collapse, and his ideas informed the conversations on failure and collapse in supply networks, financial markets, and states. As he laid out the case of the Western Roman Empire's final decades and observed the debasing of the silver currency that tracked the demise of the empire, he set us to thinking about a scenario he crafted for his book in 1988: one of "general economic breakdown, brought on by such things as unrepayable national and international debts, disruption in fossil fuel availability, hyperinflation, and the like". The Collapse of Complex Societies is a thoughtful and provocative book that continues to be hotly debated; it deserves your attention... if you want a new idea.

cover of book: A
    Demon of Our Own Design: Markets, Hedge Funds, and the Perils of Financial
A Demon of Our Own Design: Markets, Hedge Funds, and the Perils of Financial Innovation

by Richard Bookstaber

Bookstaber's book opens with this startling admission:

"While it is not strictly true that I caused the two great financial crises of the late twentieth century-the 1987 stock market crash and the Long-Term Capital Management (LTCM) hedge fund debacle 11 years later-let's just say I was in the vicinity. If Wall Street is the economy's powerhouse, I was definitely one of the guys fiddling with the controls. My actions seemed insignificant at the time, and certainly the consequences were unintended. You don't deliberately obliterate hundreds of billions of dollars of investor money. And that is at the heart of this book-it is going to happen again. The financial markets that we have constructed are now so complex, and the speed of transactions so fast, that apparently isolated actions and even minor events can have catastrophic consequences."

His insightful 2007 book, A Demon of Our Own Design, told us of the meltdown to come, and was correct on most counts. His understanding of the markets and the incentives for insiders to influence the markets with impenetrable, opaque, and highly complex financial innovations, made him the right person to help the Securities and Exchange Commission create new policies for risk in the markets when the markets imploded. His insights on complexity, networks, and information content, come across clearly and help us to see the interaction between market participants and the regulators not as "a game, but a war". What Bookstaber points to is this: risk controls cannot always fix the problems arising from complexity and tight coupling that characterize our markets-the likelihood is that this is the root of making things far worse. His prescription is to offer some sunshine on the players and the playground, and to reduce the complexity in the first place. This is a valuable book, one that should not be read as history, but rather as both as a cautionary tale and as a blueprint for extricating us from our self-made morass.

cover of book: Descartes' Error:
    Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain
Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain

by Antonio Damasio

Those who see the emotions as interfering with rational decision-making and yearn for a Spock-like ability to suppress them should take a deep breath before reading Descartes' Error. Antonio Damasio, a neuroscience professor and head of the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California, argues that putting events in an emotional context is vital to making good decisions about the future. People who lose this facility-for example, through accident or injury to the brain-can no longer make rational decisions. To quote from the introduction:

"I had grown up accustomed to thinking that the mechanisms of reason existed in a separate province of the mind, where emotion should not be allowed to intrude, and when I thought of the brain behind that mind, I envisioned separate neural systems for reason and emotion ... But now I had before my eyes the coolest, least emotional, intelligent human being one might imagine, and yet his practical reason was so impaired that it produced, in the wanderings of daily life, a succession of mistakes, a perpetual violation of what would be considered socially appropriate and personally advantageous".

This isn't just some quibble over what constitutes rational decision-making; Damasio argues that our bodies' senses feed information to the brain in ways that have nothing to do with cognition and conscious decision-making, but that when experienced as emotions are necessary for contextualizing the world around us and making valid decisions. He points out that seemingly baseless gut feelings help us make better decisions, at a minimum by acting as filters that narrow down the number of choices we confront.

cover of book: The
    Innovator's Way: Essential
    Practices for Successful Innovation
The Innovator's Way: Essential Practices for Successful Innovation

by Peter J. Denning and Robert Dunham

Denning and Dunham argue that innovation is not inventions, nor is it something that companies do or luck into, but the translation of ideas into action. They describe innovation as a personal skill that can be learned, developed and then extended into an organization. This last point is crucial; having good ideas is one thing, but in most enterprises there's a big gap between ideation and turning ideas into products or services. As Dunham told an interviewer, "Invention is creating something new; innovation is getting people to adopt it." To which Denning adds, "And if we're generating ideas, how come we're not getting these ideas turned into reality?" That's the question that led the two authors to write a book defined by this quote: "Innovation is [the] adoption of new practice in a community." They identify eight non-sequential practices that, done correctly, lead to innovation: sensing, envisioning, offering, adopting, sustaining, executing, leading and embodying. The first two are the main work of invention, the second three are the main work of adoption, and the last three are the environment that nurtures the other practices. "The innovator moves constantly among them," Denning and Dunham write, "refining the results of earlier [actions] after seeing their consequences later. It is better to think of them as being done in parallel rather than in numerical order." By constantly applying and refining these practices to various parts of an organization, the authors argue, the gap between invention and innovation can be closed.

cover of book: The
    Nature of Technology: What It Is
    and How It Evolves
The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves

by W. Brian Arthur

We are all engineers. At least that's an unwritten theme in W. Brian Arthurs' book The Nature of Technology, which weaves together a story about how technological domains evolve. But what is technology? Technology exploits natural phenomena to fulfill a human need with a collection of devices and engineering practices. From this simple definition Arthur delves into first principles of how technologies are created, morph and evolve, and how new technologies recursively combine and evolve from prior versions. The mechanism of this technological evolution is akin to Darwinian evolution. Technology's 'breeding' mechanism is modularity, which enables cross breeding, recombination and hybridization across vastly different technological domains. The catalyst for technological evolution is a symbiotic relationship between technology and human beings wherein people (at least for now) set the stage for crossbreeding of ideas and technologies. This gives rise to far more modularity and cross-breeding than exists across species: squirrels can't breed with mice or any other species, but mechanical engineering concepts can be modeled simply using electrical circuits. This distinction is important: natural evolution happens in response to the environment with a limited range of mutation over a longer timeframe, whereas technological evolution fills or creates a niche while changing the environment for the next generation and at a faster pace. Useful technologies have a modular "genotype" that can be freely combined with the technological genetics of other inventions. This modularity enables technology ideas to be more easily 'snapped' together even in domains that are vastly different. One of Arthur's examples is the jet turbine engine. A conventional piston-driven engine controls a series of small individual explosions to rotate a propeller shaft. At the time the jet turbine engine was invented, experiments had shown that using a compressor to boost the air input resulted in more powerful explosions. But compressors at the time were heavy and pulled precious power from the engine. The technological leap was to dispense with the propellers and shaft, fusing the compressor and an ignition chamber into one assemblage. In the aeronautic domain, this concept of subassembly was applied, reworked and crossbred to push an airplane faster and more efficiently. So, what are the implications of Arthur's thesis for people who are in the business of building and buying technologies? Since successful breeds of technology become widespread (i.e., commodities) over time, we should look for modular assemblies of technologies that can be more readily crossbred with future (as yet unknown) technologies. This means requiring true open standards in data formats, communications standards and programming models to lower the friction of adoption and eventually evolution. Arthur starts and ends the book on a hopeful note: "Our deepest hope lies in technology, but our deepest trust is in nature." Taken to the logical conclusion, only those technological systems that act like organic ones can merit our trust.

cover of book: A
    New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change
A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change

by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown

John Seely Brown, along with his co-author Douglas Thomas, has written a compelling and compact case for change in the culture of learning. Sides are sharply drawn with critics demanding change in our system of education, but change to what? The authors have listened, observed, and played with ideas that have led them to a completely new and considered approach, one that needs to be heard broadly. They present us with not an "either, or... " approach, but with a "both, and... " set of ideas that reframe the discussion about what they see as core-learning. And learning, they tell us "that takes place everywhere and continuously". Learning happens when we are open to it, and in unexpected circumstances. It happens thanks to two key elements: the first is a massive information network that provides almost unlimited access and resources to learn about anything; the second is a bounded and structured environment that allows for unlimited agency to build and experiment with things within those boundaries. They tell us that this culture of learning is taking root and transforming the way we think about information, imagination, and play. Given the pace of change in our world, and the networks that are connecting us to each other, Thomas and Seely Brown believe that these ideas will result in major beneficial changes if we are open to embracing the possibilities of a new culture of learning.

cover of book: The Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the
    Radical Remaking of Economics
The Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics

by Eric D. Beinhocker

McKinsey & Co. senior advisor Eric Beinhocker takes an explicitly Darwinian approach to the puzzle of wealth creation, giving it the shorthand moniker "complexity economics". The complexity arises from the fact that although trillions of economic decisions are made every day, no single agent is responsible for more than a tiny handful of them:

"There is no benevolent dictator making sure that fish gets from a fisherman in Mozambique to a restaurant in Korea to provide the lunch for a computer worker who makes parts for a PC that a fashion designer in Milan uses to design a suit for an interest-rate futures trader in Chicago. Yet, extraordinarily, these sorts of things happen every day in a bottom-up, self-organized way".

Darwinistically inspired complexity science provides the answer, Beinhocker writes, asserting that billions of people acting in their own self-interest somehow produces an ecosystem that, for the most part, feeds, clothes and warms everyone. Countless people and firms tinker with their business models to maximize returns to themselves; these variations succeed or fail; and successful entities command a larger share of economic resources while over time, unsuccessful ones die out. Although this is not a particularly new idea in economics, Beinhocker advances it by advocating the use of computer simulation to understand which economic patterns tend to produce certain kinds of outcomes, rather than trying to predict a given economic future per se, a task that he sees as hopeless:

"Complexity Economics may not help us better forecast inflation but ... it can potentially help us manage macroeconomic policy more effectively by giving us new insights into the dynamics of the business cycle".

In other words, knowing more about the characteristics, quirks and patterns of your general environment may help you manage better within it. Look at broad patterns of how people and institutions act selfishly and evolve, and you'll generate better analysis than if you get distracted by specifics; the patterns are universal, where the specifics of a case may be misleading or ephemeral.

cover of book: The Origins of Creativity
The Origins of Creativity

Edited by Karl H. Pfenninger and Valerie R. Shubik

What is creativity, and what are its foundations? In this highly readable and worthy volume of thirteen essays from authors as diverse as mathematician and fractal pioneer Benoit Mandelbrot, glass artist Dale Chihuly, developmental psychologist Howard Gardner, and artist and philosopher Francoise Gilot, we get a kaleidoscopic vision of creativity that is accessible and insightful. Our particular favorites in this small volume come from eminent neuroscientist Antonio Damasio ("Some Notes on Brain, Imagination, and Creativity") and composer Bruce Adolphe ("With Music in Mind"). These two related essays speak to our ability to express ourselves if we use our imaginations and honestly explore our inner selves. In the first essay, neuroscientist Damasio, author of the highly acclaimed Descartes' Error (reviewed and recommended on this annual reading list) lists the requirements for creativity: motivation and courage, extensive experience and apprenticeship, and insight into the workings of self and into the minds of others. Damasio links to the arts with the latter requirement:

"Great art is unthinkable without this knowledge. But some of my favorite scientists... have this attribute as well".

In our work preparing for the Forum on imagination, creativity, and innovation, we met with several artists and musicians and found other elements that Damasio cites as well-strong working memory and the ability to recognize novel representations-as being present in their skill sets. As designer Ann Pendleton-Jullian mused: "Perhaps all other creativity at some level has to do with what you remember and how it affects what you want to make". Composer Bruce Adolphe complements Damasio when he agrees that a great differentiator is that composers and performers need to have a great working memory and ability to recombine elements; he also tells us that composers do think in sound, and that through a series of exercises we can improve our ability to imagine new sights, sounds, and combinations of elements. Adolphe amazes us in his coda, as he tells us "Music can take place fully in your head; it's something that you can think and hear in your imagination. The emotional truth of a great work of music is inextricably linked to the musician's inner world of imagination and discovery-or to what I call the mind's ear". This is a fascinating book inside the mind.

cover of book: The
    Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order
The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order

by Parag Khanna

Over the past five years the Highlands Forum has taken a look at the dynamics of power in the relationships among powers and emerging powers. We are not ridding ourselves of the traditional, linear and discrete construct of peace-crisis-war, but rather recognizing that the world of the 21st century is a more subtle, nuanced set of interactions that is well described by cooperation-competition-conflict, where actors can be in multiple states simultaneously with other actors. Into this milieu strides Parag Khanna, a featured speaker at Highlands Forum XLIV this year, in which we discussed failure and collapse in complex systems. In this session he echoed some of the grand explanations he wrote about in The Second World: that there is no hegemon but rather the forces of globalization make for a geopolitical marketplace wherein the European Union and China compete with the United States to shape world order on their own terms. Khanna urges us to redefine East and West: Russia is part of the West, as is Latin America; South America has 30 percent of the world's fresh water and an economy the size of China's along with 900 million people. But in Africa and the Middle East there are overlaps between East and West. Cities, as we see in a book by Edwin Glaeser (Triumph of the City, reviewed here), are the loci of innovation and the drivers of the world economy. The top 40 cities represent 25 percent or more of world GDP and are concentrated in the West. But the top 40 cities by population and growth are mostly in the East. Cities are fusing into urban corridors and clusters, and there is a rush to create smart cities or retrofit existing cities. Khanna maintains that this contest is hottest and most decisive in the Second World: pivotal regions in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and East Asia. When mapping the trend lines and pointing out the relative rise and decline in the power of countries, some readers might take this as a polemic against the U.S. But The Second World is not that-Khanna has a keen eye and realistically cites the indicators of U.S. power relative to the rest of the world and the implications for each player in this giant game of Risk. This is a thoughtful read, one that is by turn well-documented and realistic, and occasionally a travel reporter's dream.

It describes the world that we find complex and troublesome, interconnected and filled with conditions in hidden corners that can have enormous impact on our welfare. How we learn to accept and navigate this "second world" will tell us much about our future. This is a valuable book worthy of your time.

cover of book: Triumph
    of the City: How Our Greatest
    Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier
Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier

by Edward Glaeser

Highlands Forum veteran Stewart Brand has written with great foresight about cities, and in particular the slums of megacities, as being centers of innovation and sustainability. Joining Brand in this movement with his new book is Harvard economist Edward Glaeser, who sets out to prove in Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier, that cities are the best places to live, and not just because they are where the action is. In this revealing look at cities he provides us with details that New Yorkers, for example, have longer lifespans than rural Americans and that Gotham City's rates for our deadliest diseases, heart and cancer, are lower than in the rest of the nation. More than half of America's income is earned in twenty-two metropolitan areas. The world now has 21 "official" megacities, i.e., metropolitan areas with a total population over ten million people, with each of the top ten most populous cities coming in at over 20 million each (such as Tokyo, New York, Dhaka, Seoul, Shanghai, and Mexico City); most of this growth, unsurprisingly to Glaeser, is accompanied by economic growth and wealth. Even the slums are growing faster (total number-the percentage of slums has actually decreased as slums have blended together with villages and shanty towns into the city proper). Glaeser asserts that because of the high density in our major cities, people find ways to save on energy, to create cooperative information-sharing neighborhoods that give early warning of disease. Cities, by their vibrancy and diversity of culture, serve as an attractor for artists, talent of all types (the broadest variety of food and restaurants, for example), and entrepreneurs, further enriching their population. If you can't deal with the crowds of Mumbai, but want to know more about what the dynamic is like, this well-written book of the urban world is the place to start.

cover of book: Why
    Most Things Fail: Evolution, Extinction, and Economics
Why Most Things Fail: Evolution, Extinction, and Economics

by Paul Ormerod

Hot on the heels of secrets for creating innovation and wealth comes Paul Ormerod's meditation on business failure, which he compares with chilling precision to extinctions among biological species:

"Ninety nine point nine nine per cent of all biological species which have ever existed are now extinct. Failure in this context is measured over hundreds of millions of years. On a dramatically shorter time scale, more than 10 per cent of all the companies in America disappear each year. Large and small, from corporate giants to the tiniest one-person business, they fail".

There appears to be an Iron Law of Failure, Ormerod writes, that confronts even those species and companies "honed and toned to compete in the struggle for survival." He proceeds to explain how failures in the social and economic world resemble their biological cognates, carefully demonstrating that the death of large organizations such as corporations is nearly as sure as it is for individuals. In the end, it appears that despite their best attempts at innovation, firms (and policies and governments and empires) eventually lose the ability to adequately account for uncertainty, becoming no better suited to changing landscapes than the dinosaurs were after the Chicxulub meteor hit 65 million years ago. Fortunately, not all firms die out at once; survivors create new policies and enterprises that are better adapted to their environments. But such creation does nothing to disguise the inevitability of eventual failure for a given firm, policy or government, despite any previous successes. While Why Most Things Fail is hardly a management handbook, Ormerod offers bits of advice to offset his grim prognoses. Governments should exercise restraint in large-scale interventions (e.g., markets and international affairs), while businesses should continually try to experiment and predict the future, because even the small amount of accurate knowledge generated is preferable to motionless blindness.