I’ve just finished reading Lawrence Samuel’s new book, “Future: A Recent History.” Suffice it to say, I’ve underlined a fifth of its passages, written in the margins of almost every page and scribbled dozens of check marks for the "wow" insights I want to remember later. It’s that good.
The book explores 100 years of history in 200 dense pages, taking readers on a tour of how people's expectations of the future have changed over time. An ambitious number of topics are covered -- politics, religion, class, gender, pop culture, fashion, the home, business, jobs, travel, architecture, and lots of science and technology. But the payoff is equally large, as Samuel’s brisk writing style delivers a fascinating look into an aspect of our culture that we are barely conscious exists.
Marketers and PR professionals will find Future to be an especially valuable tool for better understanding target audiences. If you needed proof that your vision of tomorrow needs to adapt to people’s preconceptions of what’s ahead, this work offers plenty. And while Samuel doesn't take on what people are thinking right now (many others do that) his voyage through history teaches you how to spot the patterns.
It’s worth noting that a lot of books make fun of futurists who have gotten things wrong. Rightly so. Many of them are hysterical and it's part of what makes this topic fun. Not Samuel. He found a chillingly large number of predictions that have come true. Sure, sometimes the predictor got the technology right and its impact on society wrong, or vice versa. But there are patterns to the errors, and understanding them will help you be a better marketer, historian or futurist when it comes to dissecting and using predictions.
If all that’s not enough, the exhaustive research that went into this work offers a treasure trove of books, articles and pop culture moments to be further explored by anyone interested in futurism.