The Wonderful Future That Never Was: Flying Cars, Mail Delivery by Parachute, and Other Predictions from the Past

The Wonderful Future That Never Was: Flying Cars, Mail Delivery by Parachute, and Other Predictions from the Past

Between 1903 and 1969, scientists and other experts made hundreds of predictions in Popular Mechanics magazine about what the future would hold. Their forecasts ranged from ruefully funny to eerily prescient and optimistically utopian. Here are the very best of them, culled from hundreds of articles, complete with the original, visually stunning retro art. They will capture the ima...

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Title:The Wonderful Future That Never Was: Flying Cars, Mail Delivery by Parachute, and Other Predictions from the Past
Author:Gregory Benford
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Edition Language:English

The Wonderful Future That Never Was: Flying Cars, Mail Delivery by Parachute, and Other Predictions from the Past Reviews

  • Lolly's Library

    Full of predictions that range from the amazingly prescient (that of a flat-screen, wall-mounted TV from 1954; a 1928 prediction of a half-mile high skyscraper, a feat recently achieved by the 2,684-foot-tall Buij Khalifa building in Khalifa; even the simple prognostications of automotive safety glass, from 1940, and push-button telephones, from 1942), the plausible, but way ahead of their time (the 1967 prediction of a computerized home, an idea put into practice at the time by the Sutherland f

    Full of predictions that range from the amazingly prescient (that of a flat-screen, wall-mounted TV from 1954; a 1928 prediction of a half-mile high skyscraper, a feat recently achieved by the 2,684-foot-tall Buij Khalifa building in Khalifa; even the simple prognostications of automotive safety glass, from 1940, and push-button telephones, from 1942), the plausible, but way ahead of their time (the 1967 prediction of a computerized home, an idea put into practice at the time by the Sutherland family in PA--using a computer which took up the entire basement rec room; a 1968 prediction of a laser knife to use in surgery, an idea which only now is being seriously researched and developed; a 1944 prediction for a 3-D home theatre system, which has finally become available even though the technology still hasn't been fully perfected), and so bizarre it's hard to believe the ideas were ever taken seriously (like this one from 1926, that all food will soon be made from coal, supplemented by fats made from petroleum--yum; or from 1952, the prediction that we can reorganize the solar system to make colonization easy, by breaking apart or shrinking planets, or by moving them closer to the sun--anyone got a bulldozer that big?--not to mention the many predictions concerning flying cars which, while it's disappointing that we still haven't become the Jetsons, is actually rather a relief. With the number of accidents we have on the ground today, can you imagine the carnage air traffic accidents would create?),

    is a fun and entertaining trip down memory lane. Compiled from the archives of

    magazine, the vignettes, with accompanying illustrations, give us a glimpse of the unflagging optimism so prevalent in the early to mid 20th century, a spirit of adventure and creativity fueled by the massive expansion in the fields of science and technology. Every day seemed to bring a new creation or invention to life, adding to the collective American idea that we could achieve anything with right combination of science and gusto.

    Although many of the predictions are impractical or just plain strange, often failing to take into account the social impact and influence which drove and most times mutated technology, even as that technology was mutated by society, several other predictions often had a kernel of practicality, making one wonder why the ideas were never put into practice. The book is not just an enjoyable read, it's also a wonderful reference for science fiction writers. The ideas within provide a wealth of possibilities: It would be easy to extrapolate from the predictions and generate your own ideas for future inventions; you could also use the more outlandish ideas to riff on for some wild and wonderful, post-modern steampunk possibilities.

    This is a wonderful coffee table book for science geeks and history buffs, or for anyone who can appreciate (and mourn the current lack of) the boundless hope and giddy glee which fueled the fields of science and technology in the 20th century.

  • Kathleen

    Perfect for fans of retrofuturism, these items culled from the pages of Popular Mechanics over the last century-plus give us a lot of insight into what our forbearers thought would be important to us! We've certainly achieved the speeds they envisioned, if not the personal helicopters. It's surprising in both how spot-on some predictions can be, and in how the unforeseen ubiquity of satellites turned everything on its head.

  • Jon

    This is an interesting collection of things that did happen (flatscreen TVs), things that could've happened but would've been terrible (flying cars), things that couldn't have happened because they didn't predict some other factor (hovercraft, which are LOUD), and outright bullshit (death rays!). Love the art, which often featured besuited men in fedoras and women in floral swing dresses, riding in a teardrop shaped car at 200 miles an hours through a city of spiraling towers.

  • Bill

    I was hoping for more. This collection of articles from Popular Mechanics does give a snapshot of how the past imagined the present and future. I think it would have been a stronger book with more analysis and fewer filler entries. As it was, only a few predictions seemed to merit discussion about how [in]accurate they were. I suppose the author figured we could figure out the rest on our own.

  • Sesana

    Essentially, this is a collection of past predictions of what future advances in technology would bring, as originally published in Popular Mechanics. Think Tomorrowland, at least the new version: the future of the past. It is really neat to read through some of the predictions. Some are true, or close enough to be considered so. Some just barely missed the mark. And some are so far off you have to wonder who ever thought it would be a good idea. Milk made from kerosene? An entirely washable hou

    Essentially, this is a collection of past predictions of what future advances in technology would bring, as originally published in Popular Mechanics. Think Tomorrowland, at least the new version: the future of the past. It is really neat to read through some of the predictions. Some are true, or close enough to be considered so. Some just barely missed the mark. And some are so far off you have to wonder who ever thought it would be a good idea. Milk made from kerosene? An entirely washable house that can be cleaned by hose?

    Two problems, though. The original art is awesome, but it's mostly been cropped or blown up to the point of making it impossibly grainy. Not a great way to treat what is really great art. Also, it wasn't clear to me if these were the original words from the magazine, or rewritten for the book.

    Probably only of real interest to science and science fiction nerds, which covers me nicely.

  • Marie

    This is a coffee table book, meant to be flipped through and consumed a bite at a time, so I probably shouldn't have read it cover-to-cover, but I did. I found myself at times hungry for more depth - more information about the predictions, who wrote them and what context they appeared in originally. I had hoped that the wonderful inventions we never achieved would give me hopeful new science-fiction ideas for my own writing. It did, somewhat. I spent a day fantasizing about new uses for pneumati

    This is a coffee table book, meant to be flipped through and consumed a bite at a time, so I probably shouldn't have read it cover-to-cover, but I did. I found myself at times hungry for more depth - more information about the predictions, who wrote them and what context they appeared in originally. I had hoped that the wonderful inventions we never achieved would give me hopeful new science-fiction ideas for my own writing. It did, somewhat. I spent a day fantasizing about new uses for pneumatic tubes, reminiscing over 1920s futurism, yearning for buildings with dirigible platforms, and a week complaining about mankind's seeming inability to predict social advances.

    The most important lesson in the book - aside from "Gee those illustrations!" -- is that it is far too easy to be smug toward past predictions. Frequently, the prediction of technical advance was dead on, but ignored the social and economic forces that would shape or stunt it.

    Oh yeah, I'm still annoyed about decades of advances in sustainability and efficiency that have been sacrificed on the altar of short-term profit. F'real, dudes.

  • Jbussen

    Ripped off from Nicholas Ward.

    Great concept, disappointing execution, terrible editing.

    I had no problem that the old predictions were all snippets from old issues of Popular Mechanics. That's a reasonable (if sensational) secondary source. Unfortunately, there was basically no context except for some introductory pablum to each chapter (which loosely grouped technologies into home, transportation, etc.). I would have liked more discussion of each prediction, the parts that did come

    Ripped off from Nicholas Ward.

    Great concept, disappointing execution, terrible editing.

    I had no problem that the old predictions were all snippets from old issues of Popular Mechanics. That's a reasonable (if sensational) secondary source. Unfortunately, there was basically no context except for some introductory pablum to each chapter (which loosely grouped technologies into home, transportation, etc.). I would have liked more discussion of each prediction, the parts that did come true, the parts that probably won't, and why. Maybe a general overview of what wasn't predicted, too? There wasn't even a conclusion!

    The layout was also bad. Often a sentence would trail off only to be interrupted by multiple pages of captioned pictures. The individual predictions weren't well boxed either.

  • sara frances

    this book was rather disappointing. i only made it about halfway before i lost any real interest in finishing it.

  • Nicolas Ward

    Great concept, disappointing execution. I love retrofuturism. Sadly, this book provided little more than some nice vintage pictures, mostly due to the terrible editing.

    I had no problem that the old predictions were all snippets from old issues of Popular Mechanics. That's a reasonable (if sensational) secondary source. Unfortunately, there was basically no context except for some introductory pablum to each chapter (which loosely grouped technologies into home, transportation, etc.).

    Great concept, disappointing execution. I love retrofuturism. Sadly, this book provided little more than some nice vintage pictures, mostly due to the terrible editing.

    I had no problem that the old predictions were all snippets from old issues of Popular Mechanics. That's a reasonable (if sensational) secondary source. Unfortunately, there was basically no context except for some introductory pablum to each chapter (which loosely grouped technologies into home, transportation, etc.). I would have liked more discussion of each prediction, the parts that did come true, the parts that probably won't, and why. Maybe a general overview of what wasn't predicted, too? There wasn't even a conclusion!

    The layout was also bad. Often a sentence would trail off only to be interrupted by multiple pages of captioned pictures. The individual predictions weren't well boxed either.

    It might be good to skim, and the pictures are amusing, but barely worth the read.

  • Rj

    The book is just a collection of outtakes from the magazine Popular Mechanics.

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