Stocking-fillers: A seasonal run on the ideas bank

[ Thu. Nov. 29. 2007 ]

One of the best jokes in this year's crop of upmarket stocking-filler titles is a wholly inadvertent one. In the sparky and provoking What Are You Optimistic About? (Simon & Schuster, £12.99), John Brockman — literary agent to the planet's biggest brains and guv'nor of the ever-stimulating Edge website — asks almost 150 scientists, seers and other gurus (from Steven Pinker to Brian Eno) about their reasons to be cheerful. And what subject strikes hope into the heart of Old Etonian zoologist and (now retired) amateur banker Matt Ridley, who as chairman of the board oversaw the Northern Rock train-wreck? "The future. That's what I'm optimistic about." Thank you, the Hon Matt, and I hope you enjoyed the £24bn that our little Christmas whip-round raised for you.

Ridley aside, Brockman's compilation radiates bright ideas. Let's hope that the various upbeat views on halting climate change prevail soon enough to justify Walter Isaacson's faith in the prospects of "print as a technology". If not, then we may not see many more seasons of Nordic forests felled to manufacture loo-bound volumes stuffed with short-breathed snippets. ...

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