The book is aptly named, but with the exception of some perfectly fine chess variations, I didn't find many ideas to be useful. The federal deficit seThe book is aptly named, but with the exception of some perfectly fine chess variations, I didn't find many ideas to be useful. The federal deficit section particularly bothered me, as it seems obvious to me that if you start by assuming that the people in charge want to fix the problem it would become simple to fix, the real problem is getting politics to the point where fixing the problem becomes either useful or necessary to the people in charge.
I found the diet idea to be highly plausible, but I don't have any particular use for it at the moment, so I can't check. The IT idea sounds like it would make a great app, but I'm a little surprised that the author would include it in a list of crazy ideas rather than simply producing it. The dishwasher and kitty litter ideas ignore the path dependency nature of innovations. The space elevator idea is simply bad; it's completely unfeasible at best (like the backseat idea), and it seems to add unnecessary and exceptionally difficult details onto an already difficult engineering problem. The gas tank idea seems to have been solved better in the design of the Ford Pinto, and if anyone wants to solve the problem described they are probably better off going back to that. The laptop idea also seems to have been superseded by cloud computing, generally. I think the space exploration idea, so far as I understood it, seems to ignore how the limitations of the speed of light would ruin any semblance of verisimilitude, even if there were no other problems. Finally, I don't think the Star Trek idea would work well for a movie, where both directors and studios are usually better off focusing simply on action (Trek movies in particular seem to be better off following that advice (Insurrection), as long as they don't have mind-numbing plot holes (I'm looking at you, Nemesis)), but for a series it would be good, and any idea, on any topic, that includes Cardassians gets extra points from me....more
This is a brilliant, inspired work. Amalrik saw what, at the time (1970), seemed impossible: that the Soviet Union could simply collapse under internaThis is a brilliant, inspired work. Amalrik saw what, at the time (1970), seemed impossible: that the Soviet Union could simply collapse under internal pressures, and relatively soon (he was a little early with the date, though, with he chose for the obvious Orwell allusion more than anything else). He reasoned that the "widening area of freedom" that the Soviet people were seeing was not intentional liberalization but the government losing its ability to maintain control. His prediction was the the regime would ultimately be forced into a militarily ambitious war campaign to build up a sense of nationalism, but that it would not be able to wage war and provide enough to keep its own citizens happy, provoking unrest and eventually anarchy -- a prediction vindicated by history.
He spends a little too much time at the end discussing his idea of what would be the proximate cause (war with China, which didn't happen, although you could point to the actual war in Afghanistan as serving the same purpose), but on the whole the work is a devastating analysis (one could even say diagnosis) of Soviet society at the time.
A possible lesson to take from this book is the incompatibility between a totalitarian government and a fully functioning economy. Economic reforms are impossible to contain, and they inevitably leak into the political sphere. Capitalism is democracy, in other words, and since a small amount of capitalism becomes its own fuel, the only way to maintain full control over the long-term is to avoid any economic development and simply keep the people as poor as possible, e.g. North Korea. Its hard to read this and not see the parallels between the burgeoning Soviet problems of 1970 and the current dilemmas faced by China, particularly as they both have to deal with submerged ethnic divisions. Although, from the outside, it seems as if the latter country has done a better job of domestic provision thus far....more