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The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st…

The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century (edition 2009)

by George Friedman

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Title:The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century
Authors:George Friedman
Info:Doubleday (2009), Hardcover, 272 pages
Collections:Library Book
Tags:2009-09, speculation, non-fiction, future, political, geopolitical, politics, government, war

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The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century by George Friedman

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In a sense, I’m divided: Do I give this book four stars or five stars?

Ironically, the things I like most about this book make me want to rate it a four. I love the book because it’s highly engaging, easy to read, and at times refuses to take itself (and the art of forecasting) too seriously.

I also love the book because it’s irreverent. Friedman’s “geopolitics” – as a kind of Greek or Shakespearean tragedy where the actors are not in control of themselves and even smart characters cannot help succumbing to the logic of their situation—is kind of an affront to the work of peace researchers, political scientists, and policy wonks of different varieties who try to prescribe solutions like doctors.

As Friedman points out again and again: “One interesting facet of geopolitics is this: there are no permanent solutions to geopolitical problems.”
[Imagine if this mantra was stamped above International Relations, Political Science, and Peace Studies Departments! Imagine if it was on the wall of the State Department. ]

In a book where so many outrageous predictions are made – on the logic that when looking to the future one has to be prepared for the outrageous – one has to wonder what the actual value of the forecast is.

I actually think the theory behind the book and the journey he takes us through is the most important part of the book – not the specific details of the forecast (which are sure to be wrong in more than a number of ways).

I see Friedman’s work as – in a way – an iteration of Nassim Taleb’s Black Swan and Anti-Fragile. Key points from that book: most forecasters are charlatans; predication is a liberal art; the things one doesn’t know are as important as the things one knows.

So, does Friedman understand that he is a charlatan, involved in a kind of quackery? I think he does. (It's hard to be quack if you know you're a quack). I think he lays out a vision of geopolitics that is straightforward, but that is well-qualified. I think he is also pretty clear that he expects to be wrong in a number of ways. He also acknowledges that practical leaders tend to focus on the short-term problems – as they should. Does Friedman know that predication is a liberal art? The answer is a resounding yes! Does Friedman understand the value of the things he doesn’t know? Yes again!

So here we have a harmless piece of engaging quackery. But to gain five stars, the book should be more than that, shouldn’t it? I think the book does go beyond merely the engaging and entertaining for one reason – it teaches us through practice not to take the future for granted and to expect the unexpected. As far as quackery goes – one based in history, geography, the liberal arts, and the things one doesn’t know – this quackery seems to me highly advanced. I’m not sure! I’ll have to give it another read.

It also throws out a challenge to other International Relations scholars – don’t forget the enduring realities of geopolitics.

"There are no permanent solutions to geopolitical problems” – perhaps I will have that tattooed to my forehead! ( )
  DanielClausen | Aug 23, 2014 |
Very readable for non-fiction. I always take prediction books with a grain of salt, since so many variables can affect the future. Friedman's predictions are mainly geopolitical in nature, and are intriguing and are based on some solid observations on long-term historical trends and traditions.

A good book to read and spark debate over where the world is headed politically in this century. ( )
  ChrisNorbury | Apr 17, 2014 |
Friedman is all about geopolitics. He believes politicians and other "powerful" people are limited and constrained by forces beyond their control. By tracking those forces, he hopes to paint the broad strokes of the 21st century. Initially skeptical, I found his reasoning plausible and integrated a great deal of the reading I've done on modern history. He emphasizes the unintended consequences of decision makers, who take risks and make assumptions that don't hold up. Probably the shocker is that he sees America at the brink of war with Mexico (?!) by the end of the century. The creepy thing is, as one who grew up in the Southwest, he makes sense! Another fact that has yet to appear on American public consciousness is that the global population explosion is over. Already. And this single demographic will dramatically affect real estate, immigration (nations will be competing for 'em), and changes in the social relationships of families. An excellent read.
  KirkLowery | Mar 4, 2014 |
A great over view on how geopolitics works and how we arrived at the status quo. A contrary view of the US declining. Its just the opposite and he gives reasons why. I disagreed w some of his outcomes. Where do the Russians go? But still a good try and an interesting read. ( )
  JBreedlove | Feb 18, 2014 |
For the first few chapters I was sold - some fascinating analysis of the forces that shape culture and history.

Unfortunately these were the ones that largely dealt with the past and present. When it came to discussing the future (most of the rest of the book), it totally jumped the shark.

At one point the author writes "this may seem like science fiction". Well, yes, but *bad* science fiction - you know, the kind that is unintentionally steampunk because it doesn't recognise just how many anachronistic assumptions it projects into the future?

It is kind of pointless to delve into a point-by-point rebuttal, as there is no reason why I should be any better than the author at predicting the future. But I can probably summarise my disquiet in a couple of themes:

1. Technology - The author massively underestimates and seems quite blind to the impact of technology, especially computing. The internet only gets a passing reference and is not linked to any major factors in the author's thesis. Worse yet, some of the author's most important points are founded on assumptions that are already being eroded by technology in 2013. Case in point is the surveillance and command-and-control imperatives that the author believes will lead to the US establishing "battlestars" in space, which in turn will lead to "World War III" .. yet we are already seeing advances in terrestrial drones outstrip even what the author believe battlestars will be capable of in another 30 years.

2. Sovereign States - there seems to be an underlying assumption that sovereign states are really the only actors on the stage that will shape how history unfolds. It all feels very 18th century - I'm not even sure this is true now, let alone for the next 100 years. It ignores the fact that people are getting harder to control en-masse thanks to globalisation and communications (who predicted the "Arab Spring"?), and it diminishes the influence of other forces, like corporations, or even nature (climate change or not). I'd believe the author's moon settlements more if he cast them as products of private enterprise - lead by the likes of Elon Musk aka Tony Stark - rather than a phoenix-like re-emergence of massive government space programs.

Rating the book is an unexpected quandary. On the one hand, I was engaged enough to enjoy reading to the end. However it was more with comic relief than any sense that I was exploring what might really happen this century. And for a book that is purportedly to be about the future to leave me totally incredulous is kind of the ultimate sin, hence the 1-star.

So unless you are an academic who needs to research everything, I think time might be better spent re-watching something like "Terminator", or "The Day After Tomorrow" - far more enjoyable, and probably just as likely visions of the future. Or more constructively, read Black Swan, because they too seem to be missing from this story. ( )
  pratalife | Feb 9, 2014 |
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To him who looks upon the world rationally, the world in turn presents a rational aspect. The relation is mutual. - George W. F. Hegel
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The founder of one of the world's leading private intelligence companies offers an analysis of current trends and events, as well as historical and geopolitical patterns, to speculate about the changes that will unfold over the course of the next century.… (more)

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