the ingenuity gap
“The most persuasive forecast of the 21st century I have seen.” — E.O. Wilson, author of Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge and twice winner of a Pulitzer prize
“Human beings have been smart enough to turn nature to their ends, generate vast wealth for themselves, and double their average life span. But are they smart enough to solve the problems of the 21st century?” – Thomas Homer-Dixon
Can we create ideas fast enough to solve the very problems — environmental, social, and technological — we’ve created? Homer-Dixon pinpoints the “ingenuity gap” as the critical problem we face today, and tackles it in a riveting, groundbreaking examination of a world that is rapidly exceeding our intellectual grasp.
In The Ingenuity Gap, Thomas Homer-Dixon, “global guru” (the Toronto Star), “genuine academic celebrity” (Saturday Night) and “one of Canada’s most talked about and controversial scholars” (Maclean’s) asks: is our world becoming too complex, too fast-paced to manage? The challenges facing us — ranging from international financial crises and global climate change to pandemics of tuberculosis and AIDS- converge, intertwine, and remain largely beyond our ken. Most of suspect the “experts don’t really know what’s going on; that as a species we’ve released forces that are neither managed nor manageable. We are fast approaching a time when we may no longer be able to control a world that increasingly exceeds our grasp. This is “the ingenuity gap” — the term coined by Thomas Homer-Dixon, political scientist and advisor to the White House — the critical gap between our need for practical, innovative ideas to solve complex problems and our actual supply of those ideas.
Through gripping narrative stories and incidents that exemplify his arguments, he takes us on a world tour that begins with a heartstopping description of the tragic crash of United Airlines Flight 232 from Denver to Chicago and includes Las Vegas in its desert, a wilderness beach in British Columbia, and his solitary search for a little girl in Patna, India. He shows how, in our complex world, while poor countries are particularly vulnerable to ingenuity gaps, our own rich countries are not immune, and we are caught dangerously between a soaring requirement for ingenuity and an increasingly uncertain supply. When the gap widens, political disintegration and violent upheaval can result, reaching into our own economies and daily lives in subtle ways. In compelling, lucid, prose, he makes real the problems we face and suggests how we might overcome them — in our own lives, our thing, our business and our societies.
© 2000 by Thomas Homer-Dixon
Publisher: Vintage Canada
At 3:16 p.m. on 19 July, 1989, the jet’s tail engine blew apart. Twelve thousand meters above the U.S. Midwest, shards of the engine’s fan rotor cut through the rear of the aircraft, shredding its hydraulic systems. As fluid bled from hydraulic tubing, the pilots in the front of the…
Read a short, idiosyncratic list of the books and articles that were particularly valuable when writing The Ingenuity Gap.
“Thomas Homer-Dixon is a sort of Bruce Chatwin of ideas. Reading the meditations that his travels around the world prompt in him is addictive.”
“The greatest strength of The Ingenuity Gap us in Homer-Dixon’s ability to illustrate the thin line between order and chaos, prosperity and starvation, or compassion and carelessness in today’s world. The book is a wake-up call to all citizens to take notice of our collective deterioration and therefore…it has the potential to be one of the most important and revolutionary books of recent years.”
“Displaying impressive breadth of learning, Homer-Dixon explores such complex problems as international financial crises, AIDS, overburdened air control systems, yawning gulfs of wealth and poverty, runaway population increases, a crush of information, the fragmentation of ungovernable cities and a host of ecological problems…. Closely reasoned, accessible and lucid.”
—The Washington Post
“Thomas Homer-Dixon is one of the few people on the planet who could have tackled what he defines as the world’s overriding issue: the yawning ‘ingenuity’ gap between the need for practical solutions to complex problems, from global warming to Third World poverty, and the actual supply of workable ideas.”
“Homer-Dixon switches adroitly between reviewing what the academics say and his own impressions of a range of locations seen at first hand that epitomise features of the global society he is examining…. Throughout, Homer-Dixon manages to dramatise the scale of the problems while maintaining a degree of optimism about our ability to tackle them…. wish Homer-Dixon many readers: his book could actually make a difference.”
—The Times Higher Education Supplement
“If this sounds like pretty sophisticated stuff, it is. But Homer-Dixon doesn’t lose the reader, nor does he assume we are academics. His prose is spirited and accessible.”
—The Globe and Mail