The Future of the Past by Alexander Stille

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An engrossing look at the cultural consequences of technological change and globalization

Space radar, infrared photography, carbon dating, DNA analysis, microfilm, digital data bases-we have better technology than ever for studying and preserving the past. And yet the by-products of technology threaten to destroy--in one or two generations--monuments, works of art, and ways of life that have survived thousands of years of hardship and war. This paradox is central to our age. We use the Internet to access and assess infinite amounts of information--but understand less and less of its historical context. Globalization may eventually benefit countries around the world; it will also, almost certainly, lead to the disappearance of hundreds of regional dialects, languages, and whole societies.

In The Future of the Past, Alexander Stille takes us on a tour of the past as it exists today and weighs its prospects for tomorrow, from China to Somalia to Washington, D.C. Through incisive portraits of their protagonists, he describes high-tech struggles to save the Great Sphinx and the Ganges; efforts to preserve Latin within the Vatican; the digital glut inside the National Archives, which may have lost more information in the information age than ever before; an oral culture threatened by a "new" technology: writing itself. Wherever it takes him, Stille explores not just the past, but our ideas about the past, how they are changing--and how they will have to change if our past is to have a future.


About Alexander Stille

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Alexander Stille is the author of Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic, Benevolence and Betrayal, and The Future of the Past. He is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker and The New York Times.
Published April 1, 2003 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 373 pages
Genres: History, Political & Social Sciences, Computers & Technology, Arts & Photography, Professional & Technical, Science & Math. Non-fiction

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But they’re not equally successful at adding up to a sustained argument, a weakness revealed clearly in the ill-advised concluding chapter, which attempts to tie it all together with a string of truisms about the deleterious effects of modern habits on things and ways of the past.

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The Great Sphinx of Giza, "part lion, part pharaoh, part god," is slowly dying.

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