The future is not a fixed idea but a highly variable one that reflects the values of those who are imagining it. By studying the ways that visionaries imagined the future—particularly that of America—in the past century, much can be learned about the cultural dynamics of the time.
In this social history, Lawrence R. Samuel examines the future visions of intellectuals, artists, scientists, businesspeople, and others to tell a chronological story about the history of the future in the past century. He defines six separate eras of future narratives from 1920 to the present day, and argues that the milestones reached during these years—especially related to air and space travel, atomic and nuclear weapons, the women's and civil rights movements, and the advent of biological and genetic engineering—sparked the possibilities of tomorrow in the public's imagination, and helped make the twentieth century the first century to be significantly more about the future than the past.
The idea of the future grew both in volume and importance as it rode the technological wave into the new millennium, and the author tracks the process by which most people, to some degree, have now become futurists as the need to anticipate tomorrow accelerates.
Lawrence R. Samuel is the founder of Culture Planning LLC, a consultancy for Fortune 500 companies. He is the author of Pledging Allegiance: American Identity and the Bond Drive of World War II; Brought to You By: Postwar Television Advertising and the American Dream; and The End of the Innocence: The 1964–1965 New York World's Fair. He lives in Miami Beach and New York City.
This book changed my mind. It convinced me that our beliefs about the distant future shape what future we get tomorrow. Lawrence R. Samuels's exhaustive catalog of diverse historical 'tomorrowisms' could tweak our own far-ahead expectations and thus influence what happens next.
The notion of 'the future' has been abused by some of the best minds out there, often without even their own knowledge. Lawrence R. Samuels's telling chronicle of the way we engage with our future reveals a whole lot about where we come from, and why the very best humanity has to offer itself always seems to remain just over the horizon.
Ph.D., Virtual Heritage, Institute for Simulation and Training, University of Central Florida
~Lori C. Walters
Chapter 1. The Shape of Things to Come, 1920-1939
Chapter 2. Great Day Coming, 1940-1945
Chapter 3. The Best Is Yet to Come, 1946-1964
Chapter 4. Future Shock, 1965-1979
Chapter 5. The Empire Strikes Back, 1980-1994
Chapter 6. The Matrix, 1995-
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