Critical Path

By R. Buckminster Fuller

Bucky Fuller—inventor, architect, philosopher, futurist, and all-around impressive polymath—has written a lot of books that look really interesting, and to be honest I have no idea how to really differentiate them or where to start in approaching his work. This book is supposed to be his “master work”, offering “…the excitement of understanding the essential dilemmas of our time and how responsible citizens can rise to meet this ultimate challenge to our future.”

This book seems to combine Bucky’s own crazy and inspiring story with his view of historical trends as they inform our current situation, and his own insights about the potential future of humanity, into “…a summation of a life devoted to the betterment of all humanity and based on the premise that one individual can make a difference if he or she takes care of the things that need to be done.”

The title, Bucky shows us, comes from one of his other books, Synergetics:

“Conventional critical-path conceptioning is linear and self-under-informative. Only spherically expanding and contracting, spinning, polarity involuting and evolving orbital-system feedbacks are both comprehensively and incisively informative. Spherical-orbital critical-feedback circuits are pulsative, tidal, importing and exporting. Critical-path elements are not overlapping linear modules in a plane: they are systemically interspiraling complexes of omni-interrelevant regenerative feedback circuits.”

This is the kind of graf that makes me question whether its words spell out next level shit crafted by a mind flying miles overhead (dense with wisdom to be unpacked), or just congeal into a bunch of nonsense obscuring its own lack of substance. These are interesting words, exciting phrases, sharp and active, tingling with some kind of meaning—but I hope the book itself is less opaque.

To be fair, Bucky does lay out his reasons for writing this book in its Foreword pretty clearly, in a way that’s at once alarmist, self-aggrandizing, wise, and compelling. Basically, he’s is worried about the future of humanity, and his intention is to promote individual wisdom, informedness, integrated awareness, and integrity of action as the path forward. Sounds cool, right?! In one reviewer’s opinion, this book is “the most accessible of Bucky’s writing.” So probably as good a place to start as any!

I get the impression he’s made a herculean individual effort at discovery and advancement of humanity; it’s inevitably flawed and incomplete, but also awe-inspiring.

I’ll close this pre-review with the real review that I liked best, reminding me of an intellectual version of Stefan from SNL’s Weekend Update: “It has everything: green politics, scientific method, soul mechanics, management poetry, global strategies, new age without the sewage, ‘righteous’ criticism, fraternity, and enough flint to provoke a four-alarm fire in your nascent conscience, with an emphasis on the science. A crunchy read.”

Additional information:

  • ISBN: 978-0312174910
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

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