Thursday, June 15, 2017

Book Review: 'You Belong to the Universe: Buckminster Fuller and the Future' by Jonathon Keats

You Belong to the Universe: Buckminster Fuller and the Future
By Jonathon Keats

Review by David Wineberg

Buckminster Fuller would have approved of the structure of You Belong To The Universe. It dispenses with his biography in the introduction, delineating the various myths that Fuller himself propagated. It’s the standard hagiography that everyone who is interested already knows. Keats devotes the rest of the book to putting Fuller’s ideas into perspective and criticizing many of his concepts with real world applications and criticisms. It is a wonderful approach, smartly executed, and immensely enlightening.

From cars to shelter, Keats examines Fuller’s dreams and shows how they have been realized (or bypassed) today, differently, and often in more sophisticated fashion, thanks to new materials, 3D printers and new inspiration. At some level, Fuller was little more than a dreamer, predicting a Jetsons-like future, because he had no way to execute. Keats calls him a techno-utopian. This sort of “comprehensive anticipatory design science” is fully realized only if the scientist thinks through the details: the materials, the stresses, and the environment. Fuller did not do that. He just proselytized his ideas in talks all over the world, for decades, without debate, according to Keats.

Keats takes each of Fuller’s major themes and shows their pre-history, where Fuller was right and was wrong, and how developments soon left him behind. These include the Dymaxion car, home, and map, geodesic domes, world peace games and distance learning, each of which gets a chapter.

Despite contradicting himself and changing course as needed, Fuller remained so convinced of his rightness that alternatives were meaningless to him. This cleareyed view of a futurist saint is a valuable eye-opener, providing much needed light where only heat has been apparent.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of David Wineberg. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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