We live in a complex and chaotic world of many challenges and opportunities—a world of multiple transformations, for better and for worse. It is also a world of nearly 7 billion people, many of them angry, frustrated, and needlessly suffering. And a world of ever-growing human impact on the environment, raising major questions about sustainability, and many new and emerging technologies that may or may not be adequate to these challenges.
To shape a decent and sustainable world for all, we must understand what is changing, where we are headed, and the many sensible, well-informed, but competing proposals for taking action. Many of these analyses and proposals are presented in books or book-length reports.
There are no book reviews devoted solely to current affairs books. The few book reviews that remain in newspapers or as stand-alone publications publish lengthy reviews of a few current affairs books, as well as reviews of fiction, biography, history, and non-fiction categories such as sports and cooking. GFB.org specializes only in current affairs books, which still cross many disciplinary and institutional categories.
The number of well-informed English-language books on current affairs now being published—roughly 1,000 per year--is far greater than anyone realizes. It is a vast and underutilized resource to enable a better grasp of today’s complex issues and directions that we should pursue.
A reasonably complete inventory of current affairs books will enable a wide variety of users to choose what is best suited for their interests and needs. It will not only assist informed choice and accelerate learning, but will hopefully encourage synthesis and analysis of fragmented perspectives on complex issues
No. It will never be complete because new books and reports are constantly being issued by hundreds of publishers, large and small. We hope to identify some 80-90% of these new books, but the listing has to be constantly updated. Moreover, the new book information, most of it from publisher websites or hardcopy catalogs of forthcoming titles, is subject to change. The number of pages in a book, for example, are only rough publisher estimates and the final version may be 20-30% longer or shorter. Still, some advance information on whether a book is short or long, is better than none.
Everyone is besieged by too much information. In the immediate sense, GFB.org provides even more information. But there is a virtue in being able to choose and in knowing what is available. Why go to the same restaurant when there are 200 restaurants in town? The same is true with current affairs books. You know what you like and what you need. You should also know what is available. Choosing from an expanded array will take some extra time, but the benefits should repay the investment.
Many of the books covered here are written by political scientists, economists, and sociologists (a few by anthropologists, geographers, and historians). But many others are written by experts in the professions (medicine, education, journalism, and especially law), “hard” scientists (especially environmental science and climatology), the humanities (especially philosophy), political and business leaders, and various well-informed activists.
Many “professional” and “academic” books are dense and aimed at fellow specialists, but many scholarly writers try very hard to write in a clear and lively style, whether for university presses or “trade” publishers. The authors of “trade” books (from publishers such as Penguin, Random House, and Doubleday—the books you see in the bookstores) are often journalists, but also include academics who seek a wider audience. In the world of current affairs books, the boundaries are blurred, and some journalists are just as rigorous and detailed in their scholarship as most good academic writers. On the other hand, there are many academics who are poor writers and not very scholarly.
Arguably yes. Most current affairs books discuss trends, forecasts of what is probable, scenarios of what is possible, and/or visions of what is desirable—which is what any good futurist tries to do. The problem is that there are no requirements to be a “futurist” and no shared definition of “futures studies” or “foresight”. And many outstanding thinkers about the future call themselves something else (political scientist, geographer, etc.) due to their academic training and terms of employment. Suffice to say that all current affairs books listed here are “futures-relevant” in some way. Very few, however, are identified explicitly as falling in the fuzzy category of “futures studies.”
Arguably yes, in the broadest sense. “Policy Studies” is generally allied with political science departments, and thus tends to neglect technology and, especially, environmental concerns.
Yes and no. GFB.org is confined to English-language books and reports, mostly from US-based publishers. Ideally, in years ahead, GFB.org might be expanded to include current affairs books in all major languages, with translation into major languages so that everyone can grasp new thinking about global affairs. However, for better or worse, English is the major global language of science, and most important current affairs books are published in English. Most British publishers have US-based operations (e.g., Oxford UP and Cambridge UP) or distributors (e.g., Earthscan and others through Stylus). And some American publishers distribute books from non-US or British publishers or think tanks (e.g., Brookings, U of Chicago, Columbia UP). Authors tend to be from English-speaking countries, but because English is the world language of science, authors are increasingly from a variety of non-US/UK countries. Sometime in the future, GFB.org hopes to have a tally of author nationalities or places of residence.
Some of the books listed here are solely devoted to US domestic issues such as schools and health care. Such books are listed for three reasons: 1) they sometimes have a discussion of how other nations deal with problems such as gun control and drugs; 2) they may be of interest to people in other nations because the US, for all of its strengths and weaknesses, is still the storied 800-lb gorilla in world affairs (although increasingly less so); for better and worse, what happens in the US affects the world; 3) domestic issues are increasingly globalized, in the sense that nations can and should learn about “what works” from each other (a major theme of the excellent OECD publications, many of which are listed here).
There is surely a marked trend from the printed page to the screen, as eloquently addressed by Nicholas Carr (see GFB.org July 2010 Book of the Month). That said, hardcopy books on current affairs topics, whether hardcover or paperbound, are still in abundance. E-book versions are increasingly appearing, especially from trade publishers, but are still a small minority of titles published. Within the next 5-10 years, they will likely be a majority.
Do you trust your doctor? Not all medical professionals are right all the time in their diagnoses and prescriptions, but years of study and practice ought to be respected and often is, even if second opinions are needed. Similarly, experts in current affairs have devoted years of study to a huge variety of perplexing issues. They may not be right, or entirely right, but they should be consulted for their expert views, often presented with great passion and concern. Government by cliché, untested assumption, and outright ignorance is increasingly a dangerous option.
As stated on the Home Page, Global Foresight Books is designed for a wide variety of users:
- Researchers, teachers, and grad students, especially in the social and policy sciences and in environmental studies;
- Leaders, staff assistants, and planners in business, government, cities, and NGOs;
- Consultants, policy analysts, and futures researchers;
- Librarians in schools, colleges, government agencies, businesses, and in current-affairs-starved public libraries;
- Journalists who need to identify experts in a variety of areas, most of whom will gladly discuss their new or forthcoming book;
- Concerned citizens and activists who want a fuller understanding of various issues.
In fact, who uses GFB for what, and whether it makes a great difference or none at all, is an open question. Your feedback is greatly encouraged, especially in the form of testimonials if you find GFB to be valuable.
A thousand current affairs titles per year is huge. No one is likely to be interested in everything on every topic. But everyone can find something of value, whether it is a broad scan of current thinking about the global economic crisis, climate change, or sustainability, or information on specific issues such as toxic chemicals, the decline of newspapers, China, or surveillance technologies. Browse around and let us know what is most important for you, and how we can do a better job in keeping you informed.
Book of the Month selections (BOM**) are chosen for their breadth, originality, importance, authoritativeness, readability, and/or long-term global perspective.
Recommended Books are indicated by one asterisk (*), or two asterisks (**) for what appears to be very important, based on the originality and importance of the topic, and the author’s background.
Paradigm-Breaking Books (P) are those that appear to approach a topic in a very different way. They may explicitly claim to be paradigm-breaking, or the break may be implicit. Many other books may also be paradigm-breaking in some way, but the publisher’s information does not suggest it. These books are not necessarily recommended, and recommended books are not necessarily paradigm-breaking.
The GFB project was initiated in late 2009 by Michael Marien, founder and editor of Future Survey, a 24-page monthly guide to futures-relevant books, reports, and articles, published by the World Future Society (Bethesda MD; www.wfs.org) in the 1979-2008 period. During its 30-year run, FS accumulated more than 20,000 abstracts, still available in electronic and print form. In contrast to FS, the GFB website offers a more timely and far broader range of books, but with shorter abstracts.
Marien has also written some 100 articles in futures-relevant journals and magazines. He earned a Ph.D. in social science and national planning studies from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. Ideally, GFB captures the full range of current “citizenship and public affairs” thinking.
The website has been assembled by project associate Oana Zabava, a recent Masters in International Relations from the SU Maxwell School. She has managed several NGO programs in Eastern Europe, and served as executive director of Transparency International Romania.
How Do GFB Categories Differ?
Major categories focus on sectors (Energy, Education, Justice, etc.) and major issues, rather than conventional groupings by academic disciplines and professions.
Yes. Big-name trade publishers such as Knopf, Penguin, and Houghton Mifflin issue important titles on current affairs. GFB also covers books and reports from academic publishers (university presses), professional publishers, research institutes (think tanks such as Brookings, RAND, Cato, National Academies), non-US publishers distributed by US publishers (Stylus, Brookings, Chicago), and international organizations (OECD, UN, World Bank).
GFB.org welcomes informed arguments from all points of view. Some very popularized books by politicians or radio talk show hosts are not listed here because they are simplistic rants (although, unfortunately, not without influence). Informed arguments on current affairs, however, strongly tend to be “centrist,” “liberal,” “progressive,” “radical,” “far left,” or “deep green,” with a sprinkling of anti-government “libertarian” authors (largely from the Cato Institute or the Independent Institute). There are very few “conservative” books on current affairs, which is not necessarily bad for the conservative cause. Arguably, the huge number of “liberal” books compete with each other and fractionate a limited market, which is why liberal books seldom make the bestseller list or appear on library shelves.
GFB is an experimental project that offers a substantial and consistent bibliographical research service for professionals and scholars interested in current affairs and foresight literature. While the initial set-up expenses were entirely covered by Dr. Michael Marien, it is critical that maintenance costs be later on partially supported by users and foundations. Contributions from users like you will help GFB continue this service. In addition to your support, GFB staff will seek foundation grants and donations, as well as bring GFB to the attention of potential users.