The Wonderful Future That Never Was: Flying Cars, Mail Delivery by Parachute, and Other Predictions from the Past

Overview

Between 1903 and 1969, scientists and other experts made hundreds of predictions in Popular Mechanics magazine about what the future would hold. Their forecasts ranged from ruefully funny to eerily prescient and optimistically utopian. Here are the very best of them, culled from hundreds of articles, complete with the original, visually stunning retro art. They will capture the imagination of futurists in the same way Jules Verne's writing did a century earlier. Every chapter features an introduction by ...
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Overview

Between 1903 and 1969, scientists and other experts made hundreds of predictions in Popular Mechanics magazine about what the future would hold. Their forecasts ranged from ruefully funny to eerily prescient and optimistically utopian. Here are the very best of them, culled from hundreds of articles, complete with the original, visually stunning retro art. They will capture the imagination of futurists in the same way Jules Verne's writing did a century earlier. Every chapter features an introduction by astrophysics professor, science-fiction author, and former NASA advisor Gregory Benford.

PAST PREDICTIONS OF OUR FUTURE INCLUDE:
Skyscrapers so tall they'll have their own climate  o  Underground pneumatic tubes to replace garbage trucks  o  Rooftop lakes that serve as air conditioning systems  o  Clothes made from asbestos and aluminum  o  Mail sorted by robots and delivered by parachutes

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Editorial Reviews

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Predicting is a risky business, but for bystanders, faulty forecasts have the makings of great fun. For decades, for instance, the pundits of Popular Mechanics rolled out illustrated features about flying cars and buses, mail-sorting robots, and underground cities that piqued our youthful interest but didn't always achieve widespread fruition. All these utopian fancies and more reemerge in this refreshingly retro, delightfully rich collection of past predictions of our future. The illustrations alone are worth the price of the book. Every chapter features an introduction by scientist and science fiction writer Gregory Banford.

Library Journal
Predictions abound as society guesses what the future will bring—but does today's world match the past's predictions? Nebula Award-winning sf author Benford (physics, Univ. of California; The Sunborn) and the editors of Popular Mechanics here examine that prospect by reviewing predictions printed in the magazine over the past century. The majority were wrong, as the title implies; Americans don't go to work in Jetson-like flying cars or eat food made from sawdust. However, many were correct; televisions are thin enough to hang on a wall like pictures (predicted in 1954). Other guesses were right but for the wrong reasons. Widespread use of video phone calls (predicted in the 1940s) was enabled by the Internet and Skype rather than videophones combining telephones with TV transmitters. VERDICT Benford provides an interesting tour of the future views of the past. Great fun for history of science/technology buffs.—William Baer, Georgia Inst. of Technology Lib., Atlanta
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781588168221
  • Publisher: Hearst
  • Publication date: 10/5/2010
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 7.60 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 19, 2012

    Fascinating history of technical predictions that held promises

    Fascinating history of technical predictions that held promises never fulfilled. It is a very enjoyable read and a cautionary tale about making predictions about advances in science and technology. The future remains shrouded in mystery and maybe it should.

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  • Posted January 5, 2012

    Highly Recommended - you must check it out

    The book was a hit. I gave a copy to my Dad, Father-n-law and Uncle. They all loved it. I've even ordered 3 more copies to give to customers.

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  • Posted February 2, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Entertaining and thought-provoking

    This book is not science fiction. The novels of Jules Verne (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, From the Earth to the Moon, etc.) are sci-fi. Movies like Forbidden Planet (1956), with Robby the Robot, the Krell, and the id monster, are sci-fi. The Jetsons, the space-age family with their wonderful, labor-free house, is sci-fi. But Popular Mechanics is the real deal. It's filled with real predictions by people who knew what they were talking about. What we need to understand, says Gregory Benford, is that predictions we find humorous in 2011, "grasped at least a portion of the future. . In the year 1900 everyone knew that technology drove their world and would drive the future even harder" (pg. 9). What we need to remember is the context of the predictions-the war years (both world wars) when inventions (and dreams) were vital to survival, the thirties and the fifties when optimism filled the air. This is one of the most entertaining and thought-provoking books you'll read this year. The illustrations alone are worth the price-a bright red motor-sleigh that travels at 60 mph (1912), the most amazing foldable house you ever saw, with rooms that combine and a "swinging lounge" (1922), children sitting around an artificial sun absorbing ultraviolet rays to prevent their getting rickets (1925), a house whose air conditioning comes from a pool on the roof (1928), a magnificent multi-level city (1928), scientists wearing gas masks as they test the air (1932), bicycles encased in strong plastic to protect not just the cyclist's head but his whole body (1933), a video telephone (1940), a woman hosing down the living room sofa (1950), tooth transplants (1966), and the works inside a wrist-watch that is also a total communication center (1968). And that's not all. We used to see drawings in this style on the funny pages. It was imitated (and called Pop Art) by Roy Lichtenstein in the sixties. The illustrations in this book are beautiful and hilarious at the same time. What did they say we could expect? The end of steel. Plastics stronger than glass. (Remember The Graduate?) Dining tables with place settings and flowers on them that fold into tea carts. Frozen dinners at home and frozen foods in the grocery store. The microwave, the air ambulance, domed stadiums, jet engines, television, "plug-in plastic organs," and personal helicopters. And we have some of those things today, right? Well, they don't look like the ones in the book, but the future is indeed here every day, and this book shows what else may come. And how it will work. And there's a bonus: inside the dust jacket is a nifty poster. Quill says: Guys in garages and kids in dorm rooms didn't invent inventing. But they're all carrying on the spirit of optimism that has driven American science for more than a century.

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    Posted June 23, 2011

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