The book club is back with Ministry for the Future

Posted on November 28, 2020 by Bryan Alexander

I think it’s time to restart our online book club. And I know just the book for us.

For those new to the club, it’s an online reading group focused on titles that might help us better envision the future of higher education. Some readings are nonfiction, each exploring a different aspect of where academia might be headed (for example) or how the world which academia inhabits might change (for example). Other readings are science fiction, giving us more imaginative views of higher ed and the world (for example).

The way this works: I pick out a book, sometimes after a poll, then organize a reading schedule for it. Every week I post about that week’s selection, offering a summary and discussion questions. Readers participate by, well, reading, then sharing thoughts in comments to these blog posts. They also respond on other platforms, from Twitter to Facebook to their own websites. I harvest those comments and add them to the next blog post here. Readers can comment and contribute a great deal, actually — here‘s the most active reading we’ve done so far. Sometimes we’re able to get authors involved for conversation.When the book is finished the series of posts and comments remain live for any future readers.

We started way back in 2014 and have read nineteen books to date. We’ve been reading between one and five books per year…

…yet not one in 2020 so far. An obvious explanation is that we’ve been too busy with this year’s chaos. Another reason is that I’ve been teaching more than ever, four classes over the course of calendar 2020, which has soaked up most of my collaborative reading energies.

But now we’re back! With the post the book club officially resumes, with a new book to read and a reading schedule.

The book is Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future (2020), a near future science fiction epic about the next generation or two to tackle the climate crisis. The plot focuses on a new United Nations agency tasked with addressing the problem, and how they proceed. A counterpoint character is an aid workers who survives a horrible disaster and tries to figure out how to live afterwards. It’s a rich, ambitious, and frankly optimistic book, and might be just what we need now. (We read an earlier, similarly future-oriented novel by the same author in 2018.)

You can buy a copy from our little online bookstore or look for a local library copy.


Let’s give everyone a week+ to get a copy, and then:

December 7, 2020 — chapters 1–26 (pp. 1–106).

December 14, 2020 — chapters 27- 50 (pp. 107–225).

December 21, 2020 — chapters 51–68 (pp. 227–340).

December 28, 2020 — chapters 69–88 (pp. 341–443).

January 4, 2021 — chapters 89–106 (pp. 445–563).

Monday of every week I’ll post here with a summary, some thoughts, and questions for you all. You can also look at all posts tagged for this reading.

In the meantime, here are some links about the novel to get you started:

Any questions?

In the meantime, happy reading! And see you soon in the Ministry’s offices. It’s cold in Switzerland this time of year, so fortify yourself with appropriate drinks and bundle up.

(cross-posted to my blog)