GFB Update

A monthly newsletter on the vast and underappreciated world of current affairs books


Michael Marien, Director

1:1, January 2011

In This Issue
GFB Catalog Nears 2,000 Titles
Book of the Month
Best Books of the Year
The GFB Recommended List
Searching Specific Subjects
Easy Link to
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GFB Catalog Nears 2,000 Titles


As of early January, Global Foresight Books, a non-partisan catalog, has recorded nearly 2,000 books and reports on "current affairs" trends, forecasts, and policy proposals, spanning the 2009-early 2011 period. They are arranged in 25 generic categories and four broad super-categories: Global Concerns, Environment/Resources, U.S./Global Sectors, and Science/Technology. Items are issued by trade publishers, university presses, professional publishers, think tanks, and international NGOs, notably OECD.

Book of the Month


Lester R. Brown - World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse 


Lester R. Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, has written dozens of books over nearly 40 years on global environment / resource issues. His latest, World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse (Norton, Jan 2011) warns-more strongly than ever- that we are liquidating earth's natural assets to fuel our rising consumption. Falling water tables, eroding soils, expanding deserts, and rising temperatures are leading to shrinking harvests, food riots, environmental refugees, and failed states. More of the same is likely and the world faces a "perfect storm" at any time. We must respond with Brown's "Plan B," or similar multi-faceted grand scheme, to restructure the world energy economy, stabilize population, end poverty, cut emissions, restore forests and fisheries, and save civilization. Where's the counter-argument? Appropriately, World on the Edge is being published worldwide in 23 languages and 27 countries. Also see Requiem for a Species, GFB Book of the Month for May.

Best Books of the Year: Literary Values vs. Public Interest Values

In its end-of-the-year survey of "100 Notable Books," The New York Times Book Review (5 Dec 2010, pp28-30) provides brief descriptions of 48 "Fiction and Poetry" titles and 52 "Non-Fiction" titles, mostly history and biography. Only five titles are about current affairs: on the history of the financial crisis (McLean/Nocera, Portfolio/Penguin), four fish and the future of disappearing wild food (Greenberg, Penguin), how moral revolutions happen (Appiah, W.W. Norton), the strange science of immortality (Weiner, Ecco/HarperCollins), and President Obama's first year in office (Alter, Simon & Schuster). The 44 "Books of the Year" selected by The Economist as "Page Turners" (4 Dec 2010, 107-110) are only slightly better, with nine current affairs titles, albeit five of them devoted to science/technology themes and only one concerned with global warming models.


In our world of many serious problems, many unhappy people, and many well-informed books addressing our problems-at least 1,000 per year in the English language-why are current affairs books neglected by the major media? At least five possible answers come to mind:

  • First, the book reviews and reviewers are not aware of all of the available titles (a major purpose for GFB is to spread this awareness).
  • Second, it may be assumed that the great majority of these titles are arcane and "wonky" (not so: many are written for a broad audience of generally educated and concerned citizens, as well as for scholars, consultants, and policy analysts).
  • Third, the book reviews are run by literary people who favor good writing and compelling narratives over good public interest thinking (these two values, however, are not necessarily opposed).
  • Fourth, current affairs books are often depressing and controversial, although they also bring sensible hope and guidance. Yuletide reviews are guided not only by "literary values," but may strongly favor interesting and pleasant books for Christmas giving, or for eventual summer reading at the beach. Why confuse "Peace on Earth" bromides with struggles to attain the real thing?
  • Finally, and perhaps most important, many well-educated people assume that human "progress" and democracy will somehow continue in the 21st century, and that we will soon recover from recent calamities and "solve" our problems with new technology and a bit of luck. Such assumptions are thoroughly unwarranted: a strong case can be made that we may be headed to global megacrisis and collapse. Facing this risk squarely, it is time to rev up our appreciation of current affairs books. Read the January Book of the Month for starters.
The GFB Recommended List

In contrast to literary reviews, GFB focuses solely on current affairs books and reports, and is guided by "public interest" values. The Recommended Books feature highlights more than 200 books published in the 2009-2010 period, and divides them into four super-categories and 25 generic categories, roughly equivalent to government departments (security, foreign affairs, energy, urban affairs, commerce, agriculture, education, health, etc.) No "top ten" list for the year can do justice to the breadth of good current affairs thinking; rather, the GFB "REC List" roughly provides a top ten over the past two years for each of the 25 categories. Here are some of the outstanding 2010 books (some titles are abbreviated).



2010 State of the Future (Glenn/Gordon/Florescu, Millennium Project), the 14th annual edition providing a context for global thinking, with concise descriptions of 15 Global Challenges and discussion of long-term remedies. See GFB Book of the Month for September.

Atlas of Human Rights (Fagan, U of California) describes trends and details the geographic status of various rights.

Atlas of Migration (King, U of California), another in the illuminating Cal atlas series, mapping trends, issues and processes.

Freefall: Free Markets Sinking the World Economy (Stiglitz, W.W. Norton, Oct 2010). New paper edition adds a 39-page afterword to the Jan h.c. Edition. See GFB Book of the Month for March 2010.

Losing Control: Emerging Threats to Prosperity (King, Yale UP, June 2010) sees a major redistribution of global wealth and power in the decades ahead.

Dark Logic: Transnational Crime and Global Security (Mandel, Stanford UP), explains how organized crime is undermining total security of countries.

Smart Solutions to Climate Change (Lomborg, ed., Cambridge UP). Economists compare costs and benefits for a wide range of policy options.

Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Climate Change (Hamilton, Earthscan) warns that even if we act soon, the world is on a path to 650ppm of CO2, well above "safe" levels. See GFB Book of the Month for May.

The Flooded Earth (Ward, Basic Books) describes our future in a world without ice caps, with seas rising one meter by 2050 and three meters by 2100.

Fast Forward: Ethics and Politics in the Age of Global Warming (Antholis/Talbott, Brookings). Managing director and president of Brookings Institution argue for urgently-needed actions and a new mind-set.



Urbanism in an Age of Climate Change (Calthorpe, Island Press). Leader of the "New Urbanism" explains sustainable development, green technologies, new conservation techniques, eco-design, and next-gen transit.

Biophilic Cities (Beatley, Island Press) explains how to integrate nature into urban design and planning, as concerns public transit, efficient buildings, green space, green rooftops and walls, renewable energy, etc.

America's Energy Future (Natl Academies of Science and Engineering, Natl Research Council). Summary report on developing a portfolio of sufficient and affordable energy; considers deployment potential, costs, barriers, and impacts.

Educating Globally Competent Citizens (Falk et al, Ctr for Strategic and Inat.Studies) offers a toolkit for teaching seven areas of revolutionary change in the world of 2025; part of the CSIS "7 Revs" initiative.

An Excellent Education for All: What Works and What Doesn't (Kopp, Public Affairs). Founder and president of Teach for America shares lessons learned about strong leadership in low-income communities.

The Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice (OECD). Integrates recent analyses on early childhood education and care (an OECD priority), school innovation for effective learning, transitions beyond initial education, strategic visions for higher education, and adult lifelong learning.

Improving Health Sector Efficiency (OECD). Implementing new infotech into healthcare has proven to be very difficult; uses case studies from six countries to identify opportunities and conditions likely to result in quality improvement.

Health Care Systems: Efficiency and Policy (OECD). On the efficacy of health Systems in OECD countries, trends in outcomes and spending, how to improve health status in a cost-effective way, and policy reforms for efficiency gains.

The Future of Nursing (Inst of Medicine, Natl Academies Press). The largest segment of the health care workforce involves >3 million nurses; this 620-page report explores how nursing education should change to match nursing practice with future needs.

S&T Strategies of Six Countries (Natl Research Council, Natl Academies Press). Centers for world-class sci/tech R&D are now globally dispersed, and the US lead in innovation is waning. Analyzes S&T strategies of Brazil, China, Japan, India, Russia, and Singapore, all undergoing remarkable growth in their capabilities, and the potentially enormous impact on US national security policy.

Searching Specific Subjects


GFB's "Browse by Subject" feature offers perhaps a thousand A-Z descriptors of both general and specific topics. For example, consider three important topics under "C": children, China, and climate.


The generic listing for Children assembles about 20 items, following by specific listings for child care, child labor, child obesity, child nutrition, child disorders, child rights, an encyclopedia of the child, and an OECD comparison of national efforts to do better for children in six areas.


The generic listing for China, the world's largest and most interesting nation, assembles >40 items, followed by specific listings for China's sci/tech, higher education, environmental problems, energy futures, inequality, rural development, aging, and changing relationships with business, developing countries, Japan, Africa, and the U.S.


The generic listing for Climate, our most important long-term issue, assembles >100 books on climate change in one list, followed by specific listings for climate and economics, governance, agriculture, biochar usage, forests, conservation, coastal areas, bird migration, refugees, southern Africa, U.S. policy, and a climate textbook for an introductory overview.


Browse through the A-Z subject listings to discover the wide world of "current affairs" concerns. The listings to date may not cover everything, but you should be able to find many topics of great interest, especially if you search around for largely interchangeable terms (e.g. economic crisis and financial crisis, immigration and migration, communication and infotech, security and defense/military, world government and global governance). GFB does not yet offer a cross-referencing system to reduce this linguistic chaos, but may try to provide such a guide in the future.

Easy Link to


Amazon widgetGFB now offers an widget on every page of listings. The good news is that this will greatly facilitate ordering of new (and sometimes used) current affairs books, often at a substantial price discount (GFB provides the paperback list price where available, otherwise, the listed price is for a hardcover edition).

The bad news is that will also try to sell related and/or older books on roughly the same topic, and, once they think they know your profile, various book offers will be made to you. We trust that you know how to choose what you want and need, and we hope that you will use the GFB/Amazon widget for your current affairs books ordering, because GFB gets a small commission on each sale. Accumulated over time, these commissions might play a substantial role in sustaining the Global Foresight Books website.

Global Foresight Books is an experimental non-profit website, the 21st Century successor to Future Survey, a monthly publication that Michael Marien founded and edited for the World Future Society. Please visit GFB often, use it freely as a resource, tell your friends (click Forward below), and offer your feedback.