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What Are You Optimistic About?

3.68  ·  Rating Details ·  301 Ratings  ·  34 Reviews
Covering topics as diverse as the decline of violence, the path to enlightenment and mankind's enduring ability to solve problems, this collection is guaranteed to make you look on the bright side.
Paperback, 400 pages
Published September 1st 2008 by Pocket Books (first published October 30th 2007)
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Liz McLellan
Dec 20, 2008 Liz McLellan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a good tonic for tough times. Mostly it is scientists and other thinkers answering the question, "What are you Optimistic About?" from the people at They have been doing this series for a while. And these books are great.

I would have one criticism of many of the writers talking about the 'triumph of rationalism over superstition'.... It seemed really unscientific in a sense to think that 6 billion people would eventually give up the comforts of superstition - which are legion
Dec 21, 2015 Anca rated it did not like it
Shelves: essays, physics, science
Unfortunately there's not much to take away from this book. Even though the question asked seems to imply a positive answer, most essays use their length to describe apocalyptic scenarios or a very gloom perspective of humankind in order to later say something positive. The things they are positive about are loosely grouped by topic (without explicitly saying so): no religion, no war, feed the world, combat global warming... You get the same message by listening to John Lennon's Imagine, with th ...more
Hayley Dunning
Some interesting theses, too many entries.
Bob Anderson
This book is the third question from to have its responses collected into book form; it is worth reading now not because of any high quality of thought or writing contained within (there is very little of that) but because it shows us just how wrong-headed our “thought leaders” can be when you let them. What were people optimistic about in 2007? Well, from these responses, you can see that many foretold a coming enlightenment of morality, scientific reasoning, environmental care, or coo ...more
Oct 22, 2012 Andreas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
1. Urteil (etwa nach 1/3 der Seiten)

Pro: Wie üblich bei denöffentlichungen ist jedes Wort wert, gelesen zu werden. Das World Question Center ist einfach eine Denkerweiterung.

Contra: Schon nach einem Drittel ist mir klar, dass das ein anstrengender Ritt bis zur letzten Seite wird. Der Ansatz, in jedem Thema ganz optimistisch den lichten Streifen am Horizont zu sehen, erweist sich als – um es "optimistisch" zu formulieren – ambitioniert, man konnte es aber auch vermessen nennen. Die F
Jul 01, 2008 Laurie added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Laurie by: Jessica W.
Shelves: nonfiction
This is a really interesting book, one of the most thought-provoking I've read, because it's just packed with fascinating ideas (and facts). I recommend this if you have at least a casual interest in science (that's me), because a lot of the contributors are scientists (and at one point it seemed to be one solar energy proponent after another. Which is okay).

I especially liked "The Decline of Violence" by Steven Pinker, "Evidence-Based Decision Making Will Transform Society" by J. Craig Venter,
Feb 29, 2016 Alexandra rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There were a few absolutely excellent articles in here, and I'm giving this four stars for their sake. Not all were great, though. Some of the articles were 90% gloomy with a bit of "but maybe things will turn out okay!" thrown in at the end. But there was astill a lot that was encouraging.
One other thought: Some of the things mentioned, such as (possible spoiler alert) the de-industrialization of knowledge and the decline of religion (end spoiler alert), were not things I necessarily feel optim
A good book to read when you're feeling like things can't get much worse! Or when you've been watching too many clips of Fox News via Jon Stewart (since I wouldn't be caught dead watching Fox itself). Or watching too much local news. This is a collection of short essays or thoughts by scientists, professors, doctors, and the like - discussing why they believe things are getting better & presenting the view that we're going to see great advances soon in areas such as physics, medicine, energy ...more
Dec 04, 2007 Ed rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Evelyn, Anna
On grey fall days you need this book. After the media saturation with what is wrong, this book by leading and deeper thinkers in a wide variety of scientific and other fields gives hope. Really made me think differently on a huge range of topics. It is the form of short 2-4 page essays and so easy to dip into and jump around or simply read right through and feel cumulatively that there are upsides to our current situation as well as downsides that are also addressed in the book. This book will c ...more
Kristen Lemaster
Some very beautiful and thoughtful ideas, lots of redundancy and nearly-identical essay responses (this book could be a quaint 200 pages and be much more enjoyable), but overall an optimistic read, if not quite at the level of inspiring. My favorite pieces discussed the decline of organized religion, globalization of higher education, recognition of the consequences of us-vs-them mentality, and musings on love, family, self, and goodness. Also references a lot of other non-fiction books, so my t ...more
150+ big brains are asked "What are you optimistic about?"

This book contains there answers.

Fortunately the answer didn't turn out to be "Not much".

The question is loaded of course and I suspect a much bigger book gets to be written on the subject of "What are you pessimistic about"

It is quite fun but not a lot more, first published in 2007 some of the optimism seems to be occurring at the sort of pace usually reserved for conversations about rock formation.

However it is a nice tonic and a useful
Jan 01, 2008 Alan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a collection of short (on avg. 1-2 page) essays from today's leading authors, scholars and thinkers, including such notables as Daniel Dennett, Marvin Minsky, and Philip Campbell (editor of Nature)... they all present positive-sided stories on topics ranging from quantum physics to medicine to environmental issues and make you feel good about progress, human nature and renew your faith in humankind's future potential in general.
May 14, 2015 Milla rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I recommend that you read this book the same way as I did: one or two answers at a time. I tried to read more on one or two occasions but it's a bit like eating too much candy. You can't really tell the answers apart. Plus, most of us just aren't used to excessive positive thinking. ;) [return][return]But all in all, I would recommend the book to almost anyone. The writers come from such a wide range of fields that there is sure to be something interesting for every reader.
Emily Mellow
Mar 27, 2009 Emily Mellow rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
OK the first several essays are about how religion will finally fall on its face in the near future, so that is pretty exciting. I haven't found any topics that really held my interest as much since then though, and I am halfway through the book now. Kind of boring really, once you get past the "God is dead" stuff.
Still checking out the rest of the book, but not very eagerly.
May 14, 2010 Joanne rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2010
It shows you how fast our world is changing - this book was compiled and edited in 2007 - and now most of it is already out of date, proved incorrect or things have moved in a new direction. Many of the writers had some very different views of things than I - especially in the areas of religion and education....actually got a little angry in spots!
Ian Kloester
Dec 25, 2015 Ian Kloester rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great collection of easy to digest reasons to be hopeful for the world as told by some our leading scientists and thinkers. It's not just cutting edge research that gives hope, but also analysing the past compared to the present: the facts demonstrate a lot more progress than the doomsayers project. If you're a half-glass-full kinda person, you'll lap it up.
Globalization and Higher Education & Communications

National borders are breaking, Interchange and exchange of knowledge and sharing of wisdom. Intellectual wealth spreading
If any country might get disadvantaged through this it may be US due to lack of global knowledge amongst the Americans. At its own peril
Must learn to navigate cross culturally.
Heather Browning
A mixed bag, some really interesting ideas and some quite generic ones; some well-written pieces and some that ramble. Overall there seemed to be a few themes that most writers stuck to - climate change, conflict, science and technological advance. It made me realise how truly pessimistic I am about the continued survival of the human race, which is a little scary.
Feb 05, 2009 Clark rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: real-talk
A pretty good light read to carry around for a while. I didn't go through the whole thing really, only read excerpts by the authors I really admire in it. The funny thing is that the book is kind of a downer. Smart people tend not to be too genuinely optimistic and in this book it really shows.
Dec 08, 2008 elissa marked it as gave_up  ·  review of another edition
I'm going to pick at this for awhile. It's interesting so far, but I'm not sure I'll make it through the whole thing.

There's a hold on this, so I need to give up and take it back now. I read about 1/3. I guess it was just too science-y for me. 5/31/10
Jan 20, 2008 jools rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good book to dip in and out of. Some of the articles were a little repetitive in theme but on the whole, an interesting and light-hearted look at why we should look forward to the future written by some of the top people in their field.
Sep 02, 2016 Sujeet rated it it was ok
Shelves: science
Glad to see so many optimists here. I thought they killed the last one several years ago.

Well, most of the optimists here are scientists, and in their profession can they afford to be otherwise?
Faboo. Especially for a non-optimist optimist. Kinda wish more women had been included in the meta-chipperness though...
Feb 20, 2016 Ellen rated it liked it
This was a clever idea for a book – but as a cynic, I'm not sure I'm entirely won over. Doesn't matter. Give it a read anyway.
Kevin rated it liked it
Mar 11, 2012
Steven Hughes
Steven Hughes rated it really liked it
Nov 03, 2009
Anthony Zheng
Anthony Zheng rated it really liked it
Aug 25, 2011
Alexa rated it it was amazing
Apr 01, 2015
Kushal Shah
Kushal Shah rated it it was amazing
Apr 16, 2015
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With a broad career spanning the fields of art, science, books, software and the Internet. In 1960 he established the bases for "intermedia kinetic environments" in art, theatre and commerce, while consulting for clients such as General Electric, Columbia Pictures, The Pentagon, The White House... In 1973 he formed his own literary and software agency. He is founder of the Edge Foundation and edit ...more
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