The best books on harnessing the power of human foresight

Who am I?

I am a cognitive scientist interested in how the human mind evolved and how it works. My research focuses on how people make decisions about the future, and in recent years I have become increasingly intent on understanding how to best harness our abilities for long-term thinking. Humans may be the most farsighted creatures that have ever existed on this planet. That also means we are uniquely equipped to tackle the big challenges ahead of us—to use our powers of foresight to create a future worth looking forward to. The books I have chosen below show us how we might do it. 

I wrote...

The Invention of Tomorrow: A Natural History of Foresight

By Thomas Suddendorf, Jonathan Redshaw, Adam Bulley

Book cover of The Invention of Tomorrow: A Natural History of Foresight

What is my book about?

Our ability to think about the future is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal. In The Invention of Tomorrow, written with fellow cognitive scientists Thomas Suddendorf and Jonathan Redshaw, we argue that the emergence of foresight transformed humans from unremarkable primates to creatures that hold the destiny of the planet in their hands.

In the book, we break down the science of foresight, showing where this ability comes from, how it works, and how it has made our world. Journeying through biology, psychology, history, and culture, we attempt to show why thinking ahead is at the heart of human nature.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain

Why did I love this book?

We will need optimism to tackle the big challenges ahead of us. We should therefore understand some of the strengths and pitfalls of this mindset. I read Tali Sharot’s The Optimism Bias while I was working on a research project about self-deception and the book made a big impression. Sharot is one of the world’s leading cognitive neuroscientists and in this book she offers more than a description of a decision-making bias. Instead, she provides a detailed, sweeping account of how optimism works in the brain, operates in cognition, and plays out in diverse areas of human life. One key lesson: optimism about the future should be embraced with an awareness of both its adaptive benefits and its potentially devastating costs.

By Tali Sharot,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Optimism Bias as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the British Psychological Society Book Award for Popular Psychology

Psychologists have long been aware that most people tend to maintain an irrationally positive outlook on life. In fact, optimism may be crucial to our existence. Tali Sharot's original cognitive research demonstrates in surprising ways the biological basis for optimism. In this fascinating exploration, she takes an in-depth, clarifying look at how the brain generates hope and what happens when it fails; how the brains of optimists and pessimists differ; why we are terrible at predicting what will make us happy; how anticipation and dread affect us; and how…

Book cover of The Good Ancestor: A Radical Prescription for Long-Term Thinking

Why did I love this book?

The Good Ancestor is a rallying cry for considering the interests of future generations. The author, philosopher Roman Krznaric, brings a holistic, empathetic eye to our stewardship of the planet. The book is big on activism and creativity, full of fascinating references to mind-expanding art projects that re-frame our relationship with the future, explorations of transcendent goals for our species, and ideas about how to build more just, equitable relationships with each other and all those who will follow us.

By Roman Krznaric,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Good Ancestor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'This is the book our children's children will thank us for reading' - The Edge, U2

How can we be good ancestors?

From the first seeds sown thousands of years ago, to the construction of the cities we still inhabit, to the scientific discoveries that have ensured our survival, we are the inheritors of countless gifts from the past. Today, in an age driven by the tyranny of the now, with 24/7 news, the latest tweet, and the buy-now button commanding our attention, we rarely stop to consider how our actions will affect future generations. With such frenetic short-termism at…

Book cover of Longpath: Becoming the Great Ancestors Our Future Needs - An Antidote for Short-Termism

Why did I love this book?

Around the time my co-authors and I finished working on our book, I was browsing a favorite local bookstore and came across Ari Wallach’s little gem of a book, Longpath. While our book is all about the cognitive science of foresight, what I found in Wallach’s was a wealth of wisdom on why and how to use that foresight for good. It is a highly accessible and relatable book, as well as earnest and hopeful. Wallach points out that our current era presents an incredible opportunity to write a new future for our species. What should our telos be? While the book zooms out to the extremely big picture of the far future, Wallach ultimately finds the fulcrum of change in the small, controllable moments of our everyday lives where we have the greatest opportunity to adopt longer-term habits of thought and action.

By Ari Wallach,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Longpath as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"An antidote to nearsightedness. Ari Wallach won't just leave you planning months or years ahead-he challenges you to look generations ahead. Get ready to think and think again." - Adam Grant, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Think Again and host of the TED podcast WorkLife

A paradigm-shifting manifesto for transforming our thinking from reactionary short-termism to the long-term, widening our scope beyond today, tomorrow, and to even five hundred years from now to reclaim meaning in our lives.

Many of the problems we face today, from climate change to work anxiety, are the result of short-term thinking. We…

Book cover of The Optimist's Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age

Why did I love this book?

This excellent book by Bina Venkataraman builds directly on research into the psychology of foresight and then masterfully integrates that research with everyday personal concerns and broader societal issues. Venkataraman ranges from individual choices to the decisions made by corporations and governments, providing detailed and often riveting examples along the way to show us how we can all think ahead better. Many insights from the book resonated with me. For instance, Venkataraman shows that while it might sometimes feel like humans are doomed to short-termism, she argues we can, in fact, choose to harness our ability to think about the future to make enormous positive change. The book manages to be simultaneously inspiring and pragmatic. 

By Bina Venkataraman,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Optimist's Telescope as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Named a Best Book of 2019 by NPR

“How might we mitigate losses caused by shortsightedness? Bina Venkataraman, a former climate adviser to the Obama administration, brings a storyteller’s eye to this question. . . .  She is also deeply informed about the relevant science.” —The New York Times Book Review

A trailblazing exploration of how we can plan better for the future: our own, our families’, and our society’s.  

Instant gratification is the norm today—in our lives, our culture, our economy, and our politics. Many of us have forgotten (if we ever learned) how to make smart decisions for…

Book cover of The Long View: Why We Need to Transform How the World Sees Time

Why did I love this book?

In The Long View, Richard Fisher provides a kaleidoscopic view of mental time travel. The book dives into the history of long-term thinking and explores its many facets, including the economic forces and political pressures that drive people to focus on the here and now. We learn about the psychology of foresight, but also about how foresight can be channeled by religion, philosophy, and art. Despite the huge range of topics, Fisher pulls together a clear-headed analysis that will serve as a powerful counterweight to the short-termism he aptly diagnoses in the opening sections of the book. Fisher writes for the BBC and has a wonderful newsletter, also called The Long View, which I highly recommend. 

By Richard Fisher,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Long View as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A beautifully turned, calmly persuasive but urgent book' IAN MCEWAN

'A landmark book that could help to build a much brighter future' DAVID ROBSON

A wide-ranging and thought-provoking exploration of the importance of long-term thinking.

Humans are unique in our ability to understand time, able to comprehend the past and future like no other species. Yet modern-day technology and capitalism have supercharged our short-termist tendencies and trapped us in the present, at the mercy of reactive politics, quarterly business targets and 24-hour news cycles.

It wasn't always so. In medieval times, craftsmen worked on cathedrals that would be unfinished in…

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