Age of Discovery: A book review by Bob Morris

age-of-discoveryAge of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance
Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna
St. Martin’s Press (May 2016)

How and why “this new golden age will not simply arrive; we have to achieve it.”

As you begin to read this book, it is important to keep in mind that a series of renaissances — “rare moments of mass flourishing” — has occurred throughout human history, although the Italian Renaissance (roughly from 1450 until 1550) tends to receive the most attention. Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna suggest that there are at least a few parallels between then and now. “History is all one piece: look closely and threads weaving one chapter into the next can always be found. Scholars bookmark ‘beginnings’ and ‘endings’ to make the reading of our collective story manageable, and to help make the broad course of history clear, but lines should be drawn in pencil only.”

They do concede, “Of course, many details differ between the events of five hundred years past and those of today. But do those details mean we should ignore what the past has to teach us about our own age of flourishing genius and risk? You must decide for yourself. We think you will come to the same conclusion. This is a New Renaissance.” Therefore, it will be to our great advantage to “keep the faith that greatness is possible. We must do all we can to realize it. We must broaden and share more widely the benefits of progress. And we must help one another to cope with the shocks that none of us will see coming.”

The human race is now engaged in a contest at a moment when the stakes are highest. As Leonardo da Vinci observed long ago, “Perspective is the guide and gateway [to greatness], and without it nothing is done well.” We must remain hopeful. Golden and Kutarna: “If we wish to achieve our own golden age, we can. The conditions are ripe. We can seize this moment and realize a new flourishing that in magnitude, geographic scope, and positive consequences for human welfare will far surpass the last Renaissance — or indeed, any other flourishing in history.” We also need determination “because this new golden age will not simply arrive; we have to achieve it.”

These are among the several dozen passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of their coverage:

o What does “Renaissance” actually mean? (Pages 9-10 and 132-135)
o From revelation to observation (15-21)
o From ideology to market economics (21-25)
o Johann Gutenberg and dissemination of information (25-30)
o Mark Zuckerberg and social media (30-36)
o From Wall Street to Dubai (47-50)
o Technology’s role (60-64)
o From Misery to Middle Class: The worst of times (70-76)
o Top to bottom, human health has leapt to its highest level ever 76-83)
o Tarnish on a Golden Age (90-93)
o Falling behind fellow countries (95-101)
o Paradigm Shifts (105-110)
o New Shifts (111-121)
o Physical science: From scaling down to building up (121-132)
o The Formula for Flourishing Genius (132-136)
o Collective Efforts: Collective Genius (141-149)
o Four Reasons to believe in flourishing genius (155-163)
o Merchants of Destruction (187-191)
o Empowered Prophets (203-206)
o What the Mainstream Divides (213-223)
o Magnify Flourishing Genius (236-251)

I am deeply grateful for the abundance of information, insights, and counsel that is provided this book. Risks and rewards arrive with each new renaissance but, in terms of potential opportunity and potential peril, the renaissance now underway is unprecedented. Frankly, I cannot recall a prior time when the world seemed more volatile, more uncertain, more complex, and more ambiguous that it does now. The same is true of the scope of options and the depth of implications to be considered when important decisions must be made. The human race is indeed engaged in a clash of creative and destructive forces that could ultimately reshape humanity and the whole world.

Observations shared by Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna in the first chapter (and cited earlier) now serve as an appropriate conclusion to this brief commentary: “We must “keep the faith that greatness is possible. We must do all we can to realize it. We must broaden and share more widely the benefits of progress. And we must help one another to cope with the shocks that none of us will see coming.”

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