Visions of the Future: The Distant past, Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow / Edition 1

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"This is an exceedingly long short book, stretching at least fifty thousand years into the past and who knows how many into the future." So begins Visions of the Future, the prophetic new book by eminent economist Robert Heilbroner. Heilbroner's basic premise is stunning in its elegant simplicity. He contends that throughout all of human history, despite the huge gulf in social organization, technological development, and cultural achievement that divides us from the earliest known traces of homo sapiens, there have really only been three distinct ways of looking at the future.
During a period Heilbroner refers to simply as the Distant Past, stretching from prehistory to the appearance of modern nation-states in seventeenth century Europe, there was no notion of a future measurably and materially different from the present or the past. From the Stone Age to the Bronze, Mesopotamia and Egypt to Greece and Rome, and throughout the Middle Ages, a continuum of cultures and civilizations shared one defining expectation—the absence of any expectation of material progress for the great masses of people.
Heilbroner maintains that it was not until the first stirrings of the period he refers to as Yesterday, spanning from roughly 1700 to 1950, that the future entered into human consciousness as a great beckoning force. Capitalism, continually reinvigorated by the seemingly endless forward march of science and an evolving sense of democracy, appeared to promise all levels of society some expectation of a future at least somewhat better than the past. It was this unwavering faith in the superiority of the future that separated Yesterday from the age we have now entered, that of Today. While we are still driven towards tomorrow by the same forces that determined the recent past, the lessons of Hiroshima and Chernobyl, the chaos in the former Soviet Union, the stagnation of the West, and the anarchic rage unleashed in our inner cities and in hot spots around the globe have brought on a palpable anxiety that is quite apart from both the resignation of the Distant Past or the bright optimism of Yesterday.
In a brilliant conclusion drawing together the threat of nuclear blackmail, global warming and the growing commodification of life represented by video games, voice mail, and VCRs, Visions of the Future issues a call to face the challenges of the twenty-first century with a new resolve strengthened by the inspiration of our collective past.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Mr. Heilbroner's thesis is positively charming in its oversimplification of complex history....Yet if Mr. Heilbroner's thesis seems simple...his substantiation of it is a wonder of elegant synthesis....[A] stimulating little book."—The New York Times

"A worldly philosopher's provocative broad-brush perspectives on what the morrow could bring."—Kirkus Reviews

"For those of us groping for ways to evaluate what's happening in our brave new world, [Heilbroner] makes a worthwhile contribution."—Business Week

"Mr. Heilbroner's thesis is positively charming in its oversimplification of complex history....Yet if Mr. Heilbroner's thesis seems simple..., his substantiation of it is a wonder of elegant synthesis....It is not comfort that one takes away from this stimulating little book. It is instead a sense that one has watched a series of stop-action photographs of human history and that one has seen nothing less than the span of civilization from its dawning to whatever form of twilight awaits."—The New York Times

"A thoughtful analysis, gracefully written."—Library Journal

"Robert Heilbroner is...a writer who combines an essentially literary intellectual style with a broad knowledge of and respect for economics....A graceful and learned essay."—The Washington Post Book World

"An elegant and slim volume that deals with nothing less than the expectations about the future held by pre-capitalist societies, by the world of the capitalist transformation (from 1700 to the recent past) and by the world today."—The New York Times Book Review

"The visions that human societies have held about what the future will look like is the rich and complex subject that economist Robert Heilbroner has masterfully limned in his new book."—The Boston Globe

"For those of us groping for ways to evaluate what's happening in our brave new world, [Heilbroner] makes a worthwhile contribution."—Business Week

"A worldly philosopher's provocative broadbrush perspectives on what the morrow could bring."—Kirkus Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
A look back, beginning at the Stone Age, & into the future. "A worldly philosopher's provocative broad-brush perspective on what the morrow could bring."-- Kirkus Reviews.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195102864
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 1/28/1996
  • Series: Oxford American Lectures Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 144
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.27 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Heilbroner is Norman Thomas Professor (Emeritus) at the New School for Social Research. His many books include The Worldly Philosophers, An Inquiry into the Human Prospect, and Twenty-First Century Capitalism. He was recently selected the first Scholar of the Year by the New York Council of the Humanities.

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Table of Contents

1. Preview
2. The Distant Past
3. Yesterday
4. Today
5. Tomorrow

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