Monday 12 August 2013

Chris Patten, What Next?

Chris Patten, What Next?

Twenty first century, being so young, is a great source of inspiration for writers.  Depending on our age, we are fairly likely to see a good part of it and with the world changing faster than ever the question 'what next?' is pretty much inevitable.  So inevitable, in fact, that Chris Patten used it as a title for his book of predictions for near future.

When I say 'predictions', I don't mean anything like scrying or gazing into a crystal sphere.  Oh no, Chris Patten is an educated man, with a career of responsible, high-level jobs to his name (e.g. he was the last governor of Hong Kong), he wouldn't have anything to do with the superstitious.  His predictions are 'learned', more or less supported by facts, and, on the whole, pretty reasonable.  He's surely very accurate when it comes to enumerating dangers that might be in store for us.  Yes, What Next? is a pretty scary book.

What should we be afraid of, then?  Let me see.  Nuclear war.  Arms proliferation.  Terrorism.  Deadly pandemic.  Oil running out.  Water wars.  All those, and more, are closely analysed by the author, together with themes such as drug abuse, poverty and globalisation.  Whatever else can be said about What Next?, it is definitely packed with information. 

While most of Patten's ideas seem reasonable, I suspect that when it comes to political views he's as far from mine as possible, or nearly there*.  The Economy (capital letter intended) is the king, with Bigger Picture and Efficiency its close attendants.  Usually, if confronted with a 'politically suspicious' (from my point of view) book, I would start fuming somewhere around the page 20, but not this time.  Patten has an extraordinary gift of presenting his views calmly and sensibly, to the effect that I don't feel like throwing eggs in his direction even if I don't agree with him very often. 

Patten also happens to be a decent writer.  Even if global economy and politics are not exactly in the thrill and adventure department, he manages to hold reader's attention throughout all of the book's 400+ pages.

Despite the author's relative optimism as to our prospects, I'm not convinced that the future looks bright.  Admittedly, I'm a gloomy little creature so my view might be somewhat skewed.  True or not, if you read What Next? you'll be better equipped to judge for yourself. 

* I'm working on a new concept called 'Tom Friedman test of political orientation'.  Friedman, a New York Times columnist, is a very talented writer whose political position I absolutely despise.  He's often quoted or mentioned by other non-fiction writers and for some reason he tends to evoke pretty extreme emotions:  people either love him or hate him.  Patten, for example, seems to like him very much.  Tell me what you think of Tom Friedman and I'll tell you who you are...


  1. There is a photo in the book labelled as a mural on a wall in Pakistan glorifying suicide bombers because it depicts a man strapped with lots of explosives.
    On a closer look, you can see that the man has a passing resemblance to Jackie Chan and there are the words "Armour of God" on the mural. That's right, it is in fact an advert for a Jackie Chan movie, and not glorification of terrorism!

    1. I wish I still had a copy of the book on hand to see for myself... A very interesting observation, if you're right then it says a lot about our times - and Chris Patten (or whoever is responsible for including the picture), too.