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The Optimist's Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  145 ratings  ·  35 reviews
A trailblazing exploration of how we can think more strategically and effectively about the future--our own, our family's, and our society's.

Many of us never learned--or have forgotten--how to make smart, long-term decisions, so we avoid making them. In a world where immediate satisfaction is the norm, it's easy to do. Whether it's decisions about our health (our chronic
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Published August 27th 2019 by Penguin Audiobooks
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Kristina Libby
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is incredible. I read it and then immediately started suggesting it to everyone I know. Her ability to look at multiple complex problems and draw unified and concise conclusions helps us all to understand the value of long term planning and decision making. I think this book is a MUST read for executives of all stripes and for everyone who wants to create a better world.
Sean (Books & Beers)
Sep 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
"We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience." - Martin Luther King Jr.
A quote that comes at the end of Bina Venkataraman's latest book The Optimist's Telescope. She has approached the question of how we do a better job as a society making long-term decisions that through the eyes of an optimist. We face so many crises that it can seem overwhelming at times. The economy, politics, and the climate all seem to taunt us
Katherine Lavelle
Aug 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this thoughtful and well researched book. Venkataraman brings her myriad of experiences in journalism, higher ed, and policy work into this book. It provides a number of new ways to think about the future as more than just individual decisions, but as ways that we can think about the world as ancestors.
Eh. It had some interesting pieces but was pretty scattershot. Jumping from personal finance and decisions on whether we go to the gym or watch another tv episode to issues of corporate research & development investment and taxes got a little tiresome. Also, a little bit insensitive as longterm thinking on a personal and organizational level are very different issues with very different impacts on the world. There were tips on how to encourage longterm thinking but I'm afraid they didn't ...more
Dec 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Human beings are not able to prepare for the future. We don’t save enough for retirement. We cannot reduce our carbon footprint. Investors and CEOs focus on short term results, losing site of long term results. Fishermen over fish, depleting the stock of fish, called the Tragedy of the Commons. People rebuild their houses in flood prone coastal regions again and again after floods. Organisers of the Munich Olympic Games did not anticipate scenarios of terrorism resulting in tragic deaths. The ...more
Jim Witkins
Jan 11, 2020 rated it liked it
Was ok. Many pop psychology references (marshmallow test, loss aversion, nudges, etc) have been written about extensively.
Derek Ouyang
Oct 17, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
If you have never thought about the future, then I guess this book is worth reading. And I have to admit that Venkataraman has all the right insights about systems topics I myself spend a lot of time teaching and thinking about, and has managed to thread a needle through it all in the form of a book. But I am frustrated by pretty much everything else about it. It's as if the author has identified all the right stars in the night sky, but interprets them as constellations and signs for horoscopes ...more
Nov 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
[Disclaimer: Bina Venkataraman is a close relative and, in my opinion, an excellent science journalist.]

It is not a coincidence that The Optimist's Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age came out a) just as I have begun giving talks about the future of geoscience and its applications in a world powered by more than fossil fuels and b) at the same time as the formation of a Society of Exploration Geophysicists strategy group dedicated to capabilities and opportunities for early-career
Ed Bernard
Sep 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The author is a former climate change policy advisor for President Obama who was frustrated by her inability to get people to take action around climate change. She wondered about why people seem so unwilling to confront the future, even when they know catastrophic consequences are almost inevitable — she cites people rebuilding homes in flood areas after hurricanes as another example, along with people playing the lottery rather than saving for retirement (and actually thinking that winning the ...more
Dec 27, 2019 rated it it was ok
There aren’t [m]any topics more important than this one, and Venkataraman is passionate and deeply knowledgeable about it. I hadn’t read her work before, but the book makes clear that she’s a strong writer, a very intelligent person, and a thoughtful, thorough journalistic researcher. However, her editor (and early readers) fell asleep on the job. The historical examples and evidence from scientific studies are interesting and instructive, but their organization feels entirely jumbled to the ...more
Neil Hunt
Jan 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great premise: how to make decisions for the long term instead of the immediate future - as individuals, communities, and societies. Lots of great assessment of psychological obstacles and barriers, and techniques to overcome them. Some great vignettes about individuals and groups who have driven long term thinking (although how replicable these are for the rest of us is less clear). Also a robust criticism of economists “discounting the future” as not capturing popular thinking on the ethics of ...more
Dec 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
As a futurist, I believe in the benefits of contingency planning and in our innate, evolved ability to solve each of the problems we need to overcome as a society, so unfortunately there was no turning point for me personally with this book and instead just good sound advice for the way science is and society should be aimed. Venkataraman did a great job of showing both myopic and foresight in government, business, and society and this book should definitely be read by anyone interested in more ...more
I am struggling to finish this book. It is all over the place. The author jumps from one example to another in just a page or two, and I have a hard time analyzing the connections between them and the chapters. I find it to be extremely disorganized. I really wanted to like this book, but now I probably just have to drop it midway. Can't recommend this book to anyone. I would love to read about suggestions for other books that hit on this important topic.
Nov 21, 2019 rated it liked it
The ideas in here are important and explained well, but i didnt finish this book and that had nothing to do with the writing or ideas. It was how the book was manufactured! The text in my book wasn’t black but grey so the lower contrast made it seem as though the letters weren’t coming into view! Plus, the text size to line spacing seemed unusual and therefore dense. I never had a book that frustrated me in this way! I guess I will have to get the audio book.
Nov 13, 2019 is currently reading it
examine how simulation tools, VR, role-playing, etc can help people better plan for future events.

She is unable to conceive a reliable plan to protect nuc. waste sites for million years [I agree].

p. 250 Discount rate discussion
p. 254 Our world and its parts need to be treated as heirlooms, passed on to next generation, protected and valued.
Oct 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Very interesting read on climate change and foresight. The author walks through how individuals, organizations and governments can try to think ahead. It's full of lots of interesting research and told in a compelling way. Like a Malcolm Gladwell book, but smarter. Will definitely leave you with new ways of seeing the world and the challenges we face!
Rose Marie
Jan 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Bina says that we've got to stop living like there's no tomorrow, and begin living for the world we want for our great-grandchildren. That means stopping binge eating, shopping, and spending, and investing in tomorrow.
Anthony Locke
Dec 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
Some interesting lessons on developing foresight from sectors all over the world. I thought her insight on the micro-finance industry, a work that I learned more about in high school, was fascinating. Personally didn't care as much for the climate change emphasis.
Oct 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent Book!
Csimplot Simplot
Excellent book!!!
Neil McGee
Jan 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Good read full of many good ideas and very informative.

Glad to have read.
Sep 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book made me think (which is my highest praise), and I can tell it is going to stick with me, probably in unanticipated ways, for a long time to come.
Eric Roston
From dieting to climate, we’re dangerously myopic. There's much evidence showing what we can do to be less “reckless.” An elegant synthesis of an enormous amount of reporting and research.
Jan 01, 2020 added it
Could not make myself finish this one... read abour 150 pages and quit... :( Therefore no rating.
Dec 05, 2019 rated it liked it
She has a great message about how to approach talks about climate change activism, how we can get involved, and why we, as a society, have been so lax about change.
Jessica M Chasteen
Dec 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019-reads
Certainly my favorite book of the year. It has so much to offer that I cannot wait to listen to it again.
Dec 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book took a little effort to get into, but was well worth it! The author puts into writing some critical concepts that I've been struggling to explain for years. Highly recommend.
David Keppel
Jan 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An illuminating look at how to overcome the chronic shortsightedness, individual and political, that has brought us to the edge of disaster. One of the most interesting of recent books.
Mehul Sheth
Nov 20, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: business
Examples were drawn out, read about 200 pages and couldn't finish.
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