An “engaging and enlightening” (The Wall Street Journal) argument that innovation and progress are often achieved by revisiting and retooling ideas from the past rather than starting from scratch—from Guardian columnist and contributor to The Atlantic, Stephen Poole.
Innovation is not always as innovative as it may seem. Rethink is the story of how old ideas that were mocked or ignored for centuries are now storming back to the cutting edge of science and technology, informing the way we lead our lives. This is the story of Lamarck and the modern-day epigeneticist whose research vindicated his mocked two hundred-year-old theory of evolution; of the return of cavalry use in the war in Afghanistan; of Tesla’s bringing back the electric car; and of the cognitive scientists who made breakthroughs by turning to ancient Greek philosophy.
“An anecdote-rich tour through the centuries” (The New York Times), with examples from business to philosophy to science, Rethink shows what we can learn by revisiting old, discarded ideas and considering them from a novel perspective. From within all these rich anecdotes of overlooked ideas come good ones, helping us find new ways to think about ideas in our own time—including out-of-the-box proposals in the boardroom to grand projects for social and political change.
“Clever and entertaining...a thoughtful and thought-provoking book” (The Sunday Times, London), Rethink helps you see the world differently. Armed with this picture of the surprising evolution of ideas and their triumphant second lives, and in the bestselling tradition of Malcolm Gladwell, Poole’s new approach to a familiar topic is fun, convincing, and brilliant—and offers a clear takeaway: if you want to affect the future, start by taking a look at the past.
Guardian columnist Poole (Trigger Happy 2.0) explores the ways ideas are adapted, amended, and abandoned over time, and considers where the human capacity for rethinking might take us in the future. Poole represents human understanding not as a linear trajectory but rather as "a wild roller-coaster ride full of loops and switchbacks." In the 21st century doctors are reconsidering the benefits of leeches and shock therapy, and ideas ahead of their time, such as a 1965 invention similar to the e-cigarette, come back around. Poole champions thinkers who have fallen by the wayside, including pre-Darwin evolutionist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Copernicus's rival Tycho Brahe, and considers current theories that may eventually gain ground, such as Rupert Sheldrake's controversial "morphic resonance" theory of collective memory. The most entertaining chapters concern "zombie" ideas, which reemerge despite being demonstrably false, such as the belief that the Earth is flat, and "placebo" ideas, which are useful without necessarily being true, such as the contested theory that alcoholism is a disease. Poole rounds out the discussion with ideas currently undergoing an ideological makeover, such as eugenics (newly relevant due to innovations in gene-editing techniques), and predictions of the most promising ideas for the future. Poole covers a remarkable amount of ground in the history of Western thought, from ancient Greek philosophy to modern warfare. With the exception of some mind-bending theoretical physics, the book is remarkably accessible and well-organized. Such a cross-section of material guarantees there is something here for everyone.