For my next book (no really, I’m starting to work on it in my copious spare time), I’ve begun to read in earnest. I’ve got a rather long list, and I’m not sure I’ll get to them all, but for those that I do read, I plan to do a quick review here, if for no other reason than to prove I read the damn thing, and had an opinion.
Because the next book is a report from the future, I figured I may as well start with the NYT bestseller The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century by George Friedman, a fellow who apparently is the leader of a consulting company his publisher calls “the shadow CIA”. (And yes, that link is an Amazon affiliate link. I’m trying to make a few bucks to pay for the sorry state of publishing overall. Someday I’ll write a post about the process of selling my next book, but that day is not today).
Anyway, this book (first published in early 2009) came highly recommended to me by a very well known person in the Valley. It’s not a technology book, if anything, it’s the equivalent of a geopolitical romp, if ever there was such a thing. It’s reasonably well reviewed on Amazon, averaging three and a half stars, and I’ll admit it’s got some fun stuff in there.
But I have to say, it pretty much missed the entire boat when it comes to the impact the Internet is going to have on geopolitics, culture, and society over the next 100 years.
Now, I’m not going to do a classic book review here, but rather give you what I might say if you asked me what I thought of the book at, say, an industry cocktail party. And when I get to all the rest of the books, I’ll be doing the same. Deal? Deal.
So the premise of Friedman’s book is that certain geopolitical facts will never change. Nations need security, and those nations who can fend for themselves will attempt to defend that security. Some nations will fail and be dissolved into larger, more powerful neighbors, others will flex new muscles and create new (or in some cases very old) spheres of influence.
What makes the book so interesting are the author’s predictions, the most radical being this: That by sometime mid century, we’ll have a world war between two major sets of allies: On the one hand, the US, and the other, Turkey and Japan. Friedman lays this all out using a classic “past as prologue” approach, and I have to say, if you hold pretty much everything else constant, it actually makes a lot of sense.
But I find Friedman’s analysis sorely lacking when it comes to the potentially disruptive nature of global connectedness. Friedman argues from essentially this point of view: Countries are always worried about borders, access to commodities, and preserving national identity. They will always act to protect and preserve all three. He makes compelling cases for this by pointing to many centuries of history, from the Ottoman Empire to Germany in the 1900s.
Problem is, to my mind, we’re at a pivot point in human history, and I’m not convinced that national identity and protection of borders is going to drive folks to war in the way it has in the past. Until recently the human race has been bound by geographical regions of interest. Increasingly, the boundaries have more to do with intellectual (and commercial) regions of interest that are rather agnostic with regard to geography. They are, in a word, stateless. The nation state is not necessarily the end all or be all of how we are going to negotiate our political conflicts in the future. And we have the global Internet, still in its infancy, to thank for that.
Anyway, that’s what the book got me thinking about. I highly recommend it, even if I disagree with some of its premises. It’s a quick read, it’s rather fun to speculate, and it’ll get you thinking. Not a bad combination.
The next book I’m reading is In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives” by Steven Levy. I’m about halfway through, and better finish soon, because I’m in conversation with Steven, who I’ve known for a very long time, at the Commonwealth Club this Tuesday in San Francisco.