The good news about Jacques Attali’s latest literary work is that in painting a startling and timely picture of humanity’s downward spiral, the author does not mince words or cop to his own smarts — that’s no small feat for a world-renowned economist, one that is especially impressive considering his counterparts’ failure to deliver even the broadest short-term fiscal projections without confounding CNN viewers on a nightly basis. Indeed, despite its gravely serious message, A Brief History is a surprisingly fluid read. The bad news is that there’s apparently not a lot of hope for Earth-dwellers in the immediate future.
With staid determination and emotional clarity, Attali predicts that the world’s history of power-greed will lead to collapse at its epicenter, prompting subsequent generations to choose humanitarianism or face total extinction. Attali breaks down the history of man into nine distinct yet interrelated phases, each marked by exclusionary tactics ranging from not-so-subtle classism to allout warfare. Citing a wealth of historical evidence, Attali predicts that the global power struggle will reach a critical mass of hyperempiricism followed by potentially devastating planetary warfare. If the world survives, Attali sees mankind entering its first productive state: a truly democratic reality in which governing bodies are fueled by the altruism they previously rejected as a hindrance. Attali’s argument is so matter-of-fact that were it not so logical it could easily be mistaken, shaken and dismissed as sci-fi; the author offers few condolences and no pats on the back for recent steps toward environmentalism and diplomacy. Attali issues instead a warning call to those who would rest on shaky laurels. Grade: A-