The Age of the Unthinkable, by Joshua Cooper Ramo

I’m pretty interested in people who are really trying to make sense of the modern world around us, and Josh Ramo adds to the conversation, in The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us And What We Can Do About It.

Ramo has real credentials — he’s a Managing Director at Kissinger Associates, and before that was the World Editor at Time, Inc. He’s seen a lot, and had extremely good access to many of the people who are shaping the world, including VCs, scientists and leaders of Hezbollah.

It’s a book about the overwhelming complexity of today’s world situation, and a repudiation of the control & predictability orientation that has driven so much of our foreign affairs since (at least) post-World War II.

I don’t think that I agree with all of it, but the basic premise is sound: we cannot completely control our own destiny, and the world is too complex a place to attack every problem directly. We need to be smarter & more agile & more flexible, not to mention more willing to see that there are leaders who matter in every community, not just heads of state.

“It isn’t easy to accept that the world is being shaped by forces you don’t understand and can’t agree with. It requires a willingness to master some of that strangeness instead of simply labeling it as “mad” or trashing it as “evil.” It means getting comfortable with the attitude that Niels Bohr once described as an inevitable part of a quantum view, that tickling “are you kidding me?” feeling as you try something a bit nuts only to discover that it works wonderfully. Building a bureaucracy that can do that, populating it with minds capable of such leaps, is going to require a heroic act of reimagination on our part. But, as I think you’ll see by the end of this book, there’s no reason to think we’re not capable of it.”

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