Memories of the Future
Life courses, both professional and personal, are often directed by unplanned experiences. At crossroads, which path is followed and which hard choices are made can change the direction of one’s future. Wendell Bell’s life illustrates how totally unforeseen events can shape individual lives. As he notes, despite our hopes and our plans for the future, there is also serendipity, feedback, twists and turns, chance and circumstance, all of which shape our futures with sometimes surprising results. In Bell’s case, such twists and turns of chance and circumstance led to his role in developing the new field of futures studies.
In Memories of the Future, Bell recognizes the importance of images of the future and the effect of these images on events to come. Such images—dreams, visions, or whatever we call them—help to determine our actions, which, in turn, help shape the future, although not always in ways that we intend. Bell illustrates, partly with the story of his own life, how people remember such past images of the future and how the memories of them linger and are often used to judge the real outcomes of their lives.
This is a fascinating view of the work of an important social scientist and the people and events that helped define his life. It is also about American higher education, especially from the end of World War II through the 1960s and 1970s, a period of educational transformation that included the spread of the merit system; the increase in ethnic, racial, gender, and social diversity among students and faculty; and a massive increase in research and knowledge.
“[F]illed with numerous intriguing and fascinating personal revelations… [Dr. Bell] recounts his life journey and professional development… [W]hat is most striking about his autobiography is the ethical and humanistic quality of his evolving character and professional pursuits… Bell is an empiricist, an ethicist, and a man of action, all rolled into one. That is not to say that Bell slights the personal drama and mayhem—the struggle and tragedy, the color and noise—of his life. We learn, for example, how, as a young boy, his life was uprooted when he fled by train from the Midwest to California with his mother and maternal grandmother in a secretly planned escape from both women’s alcoholic spouses, taking with them only what they could carry in a few suitcases. Later on, he recounts other adventures and melodramatic events: a long lost and later rediscovered child born out of wedlock; another daughter who suffers from chronic mental illness; Bell’s own struggles with alcohol and sleeping pills; and incidents involving his maternal grandfather, who tracked down his estranged wife and daughter and weaseled his way back into the household—if only for a short time… Wisdom is, in my mind, a synthesis of high ethical principles and broad knowledge acted upon and applied to the pragmatics of life. Bell—both in his vision of future studies and in his approach to life—evinces this capacity for wisdom… Wendell Bell’s life as chronicled in Memories of the Future emerges as a fully human life—filled with adventure, accomplishment, purpose, and meaning.”
—Thomas Lombardo, World Future Review
“In this autobiography, Bell recounts the life journey that brought him into academia and foresight. He relates the adversities that challenged him, the people and places that inspired him, and the special significance that “images of the future”—notions of what might come to pass, and what one might do about it—hold for him and, truly, for all of us… Most people appreciate a great life story that brims with meaning and purpose. Such is the life of Wendell Bell as he relates it, unsparingly and, at times, even unflatteringly, in Memories of the Future.”
—Rick Docksai, The Futurist
"This is a candid and intimate autobiography; the intimacy of this story invites the reader to consider their own past, present and future. It is an invitation from someone who has worked for a long time to make the world a better place for current and future generations and it is an invitation well worth taking."
— Journal of Futures Studies
“Wendell Bell, eminent sociologist and futurist, chronicles his life in this book. . . . Who should read this book? Before reading this book, I would have said sociologists and futurists like me. But after reading the book, it is really less about these fields of study and more about the life of man of the ‘greatest generation.’”
—Bruce Tonn, Contemporary Sociology
“[S]hows how our current ideas of alternative tomorrows serve as motivators for present-day change. Chapters pair autobiography with analysis of how human life affects the world, offering important connections between social and personal perceptions and actions.”
“[C]ompelling and entertaining read and a must for any serious attempt to appreciate the potential of this explosive interdisciplinary field- Future Studies. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it; it flows easily and can be comprehended even by the serious layperson whose interests lie in broadening frontiers of intellectual understanding… I recommend it strongly.”
—Aubrey W. Bonnett, Caribbean Studies Newsletter
“An inspiring and detailed story of the life and environment of one of the most important minds and spirits of our times.”
—Jim Dator, Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies, department of political science, University of Hawaii at Manoa
“[T]his unique reader-friendly memoir helps one renew his/her faith in our ability to shape an ever-finer future for one and all. . . . Drawing often bravely and always with refreshing candor on a vigorously lived life, Bell offers many pointers for those who would, like him, try to make a lasting contribution to the well-being of others.”
—Arthur B. Shostak, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Drexel University