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Critical Path by R. Buckminster Fuller
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Critical Path (1981)

by R. Buckminster Fuller

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The title of Buckminster Fuller's classic late-life book Critical Path is inspired by the Apollo Project. Bucky estimated that in order for Apollo 11 to successfully launch, land on the moon, and return to Earth, the engineers had to follow a "critical path" of approximately 2,000,000 tasks that had to be completed in correct sequence. Bucky felt that humanity has its own "critical path" program that must be followed to avoid war, and to create a peaceful and sustainable existence on Spaceship Earth.

I'm a huge Bucky Fuller fan, and feel that Critical Path is probably his capstone, career-summing book.

However, it is far from a perfect book.

Let's do a "pros and cons" analysis of Critical Path:

Pros
• Bucky does a good job of making himself accessible to a wide audience. The sentences are short and readable. Anyone who complains about "indecipherable" writing has clearly not tried reading his unforgiving tome Synergetics.
• At age 85, Bucky seems to know he is near the end of his life. He does his best to summarise his life's achievements, and to leave a blueprint for future generations to follow.
• Bucky is an imaginative thinker, regularly adding his deft reversals of conventional logic ("wind doesn't blow, it sucks"; advocating that "upstairs" and "downstairs" be replaced with the more planet-centrically accurate "outstairs" and "instairs")
• It is inspiring to read Chapter 4, where Bucky personally reflects on his decision to transform his life as a 33 year old. Instead of suicide, he decided to eschew traditional employment, and focus on improving the well-being of all of humanity. His in an inspirational story, and it is great to read his deliberately-planned work methods.

Cons:
• Quite simply, there is a lot of good material in the book. But it really needed an editor. For example, Bucky includes verbatim a 30-page report to the Brazilian government about how to industrialise their economy. It is unclear what relevance this 1943 (mid-World War II) report had to readers in 1981. In 2015, this section had almost zero resonance with me.

• After an inspiring 'introduction' section, Bucky's first chapter is quite embarrassing. It is titled "Speculative Prehistory of Humanity", and indeed there is an abundance of speculation included.
• For example, Bucky claims that humans were teleported to Earth from a galactic headquarters. And that instead of humans evolving from primates, the other primates de-evolved from us. Bucky even claims that porpoises and whales evolved from Polynesians with large lungs.
• Many Bucky-fans seem to gloss-over these wild theories by simply not mentioning them; I think it is important to hold your heroes to account.
• Quite simply, Bucky's claims about evolution are in contraction to all known evidence, and his flimsy "arguments" are easily demolished. Luckily they are not central to his main arguments about technology and innovation.

• Bucky gets very carried away by his futuristic visions of a high-tech society. Chapter 8, in particular has aged badly in the 30+ years since it was written. Bucky claims that we should close all schools, and that children given free access to TV and computers. Given these tools, the kids will spontaneously choose to educate themselves to standards unachievable through human teachers. Bucky also describes the lives of leisure we will live in an automated world with few necessary "jobs". I wonder if Bucky imagined all the necessary new jobs that would be created by such a transformation to a leisure-culture (e.g. chefs, waiters, delivery drivers, etc). Anyway, it hasn't happened.

In summary, I really like Buckminster Fuller, and I like Critical Path. But I rate it overall as a 3.5 star mixed-bag.

My recommendation is to dip your toe in the water with books about Bucky, before reading his own books. My recommended starting-point is Buckminster Fuller's Universe (1989), which remains the best book I have read about Bucky. If you like that one, read New Views on R. Buckminster Fuller, and then snake your way towards Critical Path. ( )
  aneurysm1985 | Jan 28, 2015 |
R. Buckminster Fuller is regarded as one of the most important figures of the 20th century, renowned for his achievements as an inventor, designer, architect, philosopher, mathematician, and dogged individualist. Perhaps best remembered for the Geodesic Dome and the term Spaceship Earth, his work and his writings have had a profound impact on modern life and thought. Critical Path is Fuller's master work--the summing up of a lifetime's thought and concern--as urgent and relevant as it was upon its first publication in 1981. Critical Path details how humanity found itself in its current situation—at the limits of the planet's natural resources and facing political, economic, environmental, and ethical crises. The crowning achievement of an extraordinary career, Critical Path offers the reader the excitement of understanding the essential dilemmas of our time and how responsible citizens can rise to meet this ultimate challenge to our future.
1 vote seaward | Jan 20, 2012 |
Quite the book. It's Fuller's attempt to convince humanity of the importance of fundamental change. Fuller's ideas are solid and practical, but perhaps a bit too rational and weird for mainstream adoption. I just don't see widespread use of geodesic domes in the next hundred years or so.

Still, I'm very glad I read it; his history of the events surrounding the two World Wars uncovered many surprises. I do like his view that rapidly improving technology allows us to do more with less, invalidating the old idea that we're going to run out of resources eventually. (For example, there's enough metal in the scrapyards to completely replace many existing new metal needs.) ( )
1 vote BrentNewhall | May 12, 2008 |
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Conventional Critical-path conceptioning is linear and self-under-informative.  Only spherically expanding and contracting, spinning, polarly involuting and evoluting orbital-system feedbacks are both comprehensively and incisively informative.  Spherical-orbital critical-feedback circuits are pulsative, tidal, importing and exporting.  Critical-path elements are not overlapping linear modules in a plane:  they are systemically interspiraling complexes of omni-interrelevant regenerative feedback circuits.>br?
-Synergetics 2 [revised]
Dedication
"Those whom God hath joined together let no one put asunder."
To Ann Hewlett Fuller on this, our 63rd Wedding Anniversary and my 85th Birthday -- July 12, 1980
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The Dymaxion World Map shows one world island in one world ocean with no breaks in the continental contours and with no visible distortion of the relative size or shape of any of the cartographic patterning.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312174918, Paperback)

R. Buckminster Fuller is regarded as one of the most important figures of the 20th century, renowned for his achievements as an inventor, designer, architect, philosopher, mathematician, and dogged individualist. Perhaps best remembered for the Geodesic Dome and the term "Spaceship Earth," his work and his writings have had a profound impact on modern life and thought.

Critical Path is Fuller's master work--the summing up of a lifetime's thought and concern--as urgent and relevant as it was upon its first publication in 1981. Critical Path details how humanity found itself in its current situation--at the limits of the planet's natural resources and facing political, economic, environmental, and ethical crises.

The crowning achievement of an extraordinary career, Critical Path offers the reader the excitement of understanding the essential dilemmas of our time and how responsible citizens can rise to meet this ultimate challenge to our future.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:45:04 -0400)

A noted designer and thinker examines our crucial political, economic, ethical, and environmental dilemmas to show how we arrived at the present crisis stage and how humanity can correct its unprecedented threats to Spaceship Earth.

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