First Impressions Book Review
By Chet Yarbrough
Albert Brooks is a clever and insightful writer. Yes, that Albert Brooks, the actor and director, and now published novelist.
For those over 60 years of age, this is a story that will enlighten and frighten; for others, it forecasts a dystopian or opportunity driven future. Brooks envisions earth in the near future, where science cures cancer but has the consequence of skyrocketing medical costs, increasing the gap between rich and poor, and widening the cultural chasm between young and old.
Brooks describes a 2030 American government that is virtually bankrupt. America’s bankruptcy is exposed to the world by a major earthquake in California that decimates Los Angeles.
The American government is unable to handle the crises because it does not have enough financial strength to rebuild the City. Southern California residents are thrown into the street with little to no prospect of financial recovery. Insurance companies cannot cover individual losses. The government is overwhelmed by the size of the catastrophe; this major crisis magnifies America’s societal ills.
Longer lives are accompanied by falling birth rates so fewer people are born to support a growing and aging population. AARP becomes the strongest political organization in the United States.
Medical costs escalate because of technological advances. When a parent becomes hospitalized, costs are passed on to children of parents that die at increasingly older ages. Surreptitious euthanasia is practiced when the “olds” fail to sign “do not resuscitate” agreements. A subculture of young terrorists develops to revolt against the burden of an aging population. The die seems caste for a stultified society that pits young against old.
Brooks is not seeing far into the future. The future of today’s children is burdened by America’s growing debt. Medical costs continue to rise with medical discoveries extending lives through extraordinary medical intervention; cost escalation is inherent in a world-wide movement toward universal medical coverage.
There may be a way out of this dystopian vision. A possible escape is a growing affinity between disparate cultures symbolized by Brooks’ story of Chinese and American cooperation. Brooks suggests that earth is one nation, one culture that is interdependent, borderless, and capable of resolving world problems. President Trump has a quite different vision.
Brooks is cleverly extrapolating from science and societal evidence of 2012 to send a message to the world about the potential consequence of ignorance. Science will continue to advance in ways that affect society and science’s effects need to be understood in light of the immutability of human nature. Human greed, pursuit of power, and covetousness are not expected to magically disappear but nature’s drive for self-preservation will sustain humanity. That is Brook’s story but our current political circumstance belies his vision.
“Twenty Thirty” is an entertaining read; i.e. structured in short paragraphs and chapters that appeal to today’s Iphone’, Ipad’, and Ipod’ distracted society.