A follow-up to the author’s prescient bestseller, first published in 1982, that alerted the public to the likely impacts of information technologies and the emergence of a post-industrial society.
When Sleepers, Wake! was released in Australia, it immediately became influential around the world: it was read by Deng Xiaoping and Bill Gates; was published in China, Japan, South Korea, and Sweden; and led to the author being the first Australian minister invited to address a G-7 summit meeting, held in Canada in 1985.
Now its author, the polymath and former politician Barry Jones, turns his attention to what has happened since — especially to politics, health, and our climate in the digital age — and to the challenges faced by increasingly fragile democracies and public institutions.
Jones sees climate change as the greatest problem of our time, but political leaders have proved incapable of dealing with complex, long-term issues of such magnitude. The Trump phenomenon overturns the whole concept of critical thinking and analysis. Meanwhile, technologies such as the smartphone and the ubiquity of social media have reinforced the realm of the personal. This has weakened our sense of, or empathy with, ‘the other’, the remote, and the unfamiliar, and all but destroyed our sense of community, of being members of broad, inclusive groups. The COVID-19 threat, which was immediate, and personal, showed that some leaders could respond courageously, while others denied the evidence.
In the post-truth era, politicians invent ‘facts’ and ignore or deny the obvious, while business and the media are obsessed with marketing and consumption for the short term. What Is to Be Done is a long-awaited work from Jones on the challenges of modernity and what must be done to meet them.
‘The author of this book is a genius. He irritates the hell out of people of all political loyalties. He reads virtually everything that matters. In these pages we, his readers, are the beneficiaries. Forty years after his masterpiece Sleepers, Wake! he tackles the challenges of a new age: the digital world, climate change, COVID-19, and widespread political disillusionment. If any author can offer us thoughtful directions for what is to be done, it is Barry Jones.’
Michael Kirby AC CMG
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‘Honestly critical and generous judgements from Australia’s most knowledgeable mind, about threats to our civilisation and how we can conserve the best.’
Ross Garnaut AC
‘Read Barry’s book. No one has ever thought longer, harder, and deeper about this country.’
Phillip Adams AO
‘Some of the issues that Barry Jones addressed 40 years back in Sleepers, Wake! persist, while new problems have emerged. Now, in an even more challenged world, he asks the single most important question: What’s to be done?’
Professor Peter Doherty
‘The hope for this book is that the young people who read it will respond to its scientifically sound and brilliant analyses of how our society needs to change post Covid. Their health and wellbeing, as well as that of the planet, depends on citizens being informed and challenging our undemocratic political culture.’
Professor Fiona Stanley
‘If anyone has written a more precise distillation of the current issues and implications of climate change, I haven’t read or heard of it.’
Geoff Cousins AM
‘[Barry Jones is an] irrepressible, hugely intelligent, always insightful and utterly unique man … What Is To Be Done blends an astonishing array of scholarly research with insights from history, philosophy and literature, coupled with biographical reflections and anecdotes, to assemble political and policy recommendations that make a persuasive case for a new way forward.’
Troy Bramston, The Australian
‘What Is to Be Done picks up from where Sleepers, Wake! left off. Like that seminal 1982 work, What is to be Done is a clarion call for addressing the cultural, political and environmental challenges that we face today.’
Praise for Sleepers, Wake!:
‘[A]n extremely interesting and provocative book … The author is justified in claiming that its central message is relevant to all industrial societies and it deserves to be widely read in all of them … What makes this book a much better attempt than most is the breadth of the approach, the sense of history, and the sense of humour … it is strong on the political implications of the information revolution and has admirable things to say on the dangers of technological disfranchisement and technological determinism. The critique of the role of the automobile in urban societies has seldom been put better … [A] book which should not be missed.’
Chris Freeman, University of Sussex, Prometheus: critical studies in innovation