Business bookshelf: 'The Future'

  • Updated: January 26, 2013 - 5:06 PM

Al Gore, Random House, 558 pages, $30

"The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change," the title of Al Gore's ambitious, drily written new book, sounds like a snoozy think-tank talk. And while it's about 30 times as long, that's exactly what this volume is, a wonky overview of the forces that are remaking the world: economic globalization, the digital revolution, climate change, dwindling natural resources, shifts in the global balance of power and advances in the life sciences.

Because it bites off way more than it can plausibly digest, "The Future" lacks the cogency and focus of Gore's previous two books, "An Inconvenient Truth," his succinct, user-friendly assessment of the dangers of climate change, and "The Assault on Reason," his perspicacious analysis of the country's ailing condition as a participatory democracy.

The main theme in this volume has to do with Gore's conviction that "American democracy has been hacked," that Congress "is now incapable of passing laws without permission from the corporate lobbies and other special interests that control their campaign finances."

The results, Gore goes on, can be seen in "the ever increasing inequalities of income and growing concentrations of wealth, and the paralysis of any efforts at reform." Such paralysis is particularly dangerous, he says, given the challenges facing the country today, like declining public education financing and continuing high unemployment (a byproduct not only of the 2008 crash, but also of globalization, outsourcing and automation).

Gore is most convincing in "The Future" when he refrains from editorializing and sticks to analyzing how changes in technology, our political climate and the environment are going to affect the world, often creating domino or cascade-like effects.

Gore says he's laid out a "recommended agenda for action" in this volume, and he mentions some familiar policy options for grappling with the climate change crisis. But his book doesn't really offer a lot of detailed, practical ideas for coming to terms with the myriad other problems he identifies in these pages as facing the U.S. and the world.

NEW YORK TIMES

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