The Third Wave Essay - Critical Context

Alvin Toffler

Critical Context

All three installments of Alvin Toffler’s trilogy on how current trends promise to affect future development—including Future Shock, The Third Wave, and the volume that appeared ten years after it, Power Shift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Violence at the Edge of the Twenty-first Century (1990)—continue to be among the most widely read and influential works of contemporary popular sociology. Initially banned after its appearance in mainland China, The Third Wave later became the second most widely distributed book there, next to a volume of the speeches of Deng Xiopeng. Future Shock received the French award Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger in 1972, and all three of the above-mentioned works have been translated into more than fifty languages. Toffler has been a visiting professor at a number of universities, including The New School for Social Research and Cornell University. Likewise, in the wake of the overwhelming success of his books, he has served as a consultant to a number of major international corporations.

The Third Wave particularly stands out as a work making large-scale historical synthesis both useful and relevant to the general reader, which perhaps serves as the basis for its broad international appeal. Its optimistic blueprint for constructively surmounting the demons of “future shock” and tackling society’s most basic fears about the march of technological progress lend to its appeal as well, as Toffler seems at times to express a singularly hopeful vision of what is more often characterized as a daunting, doom-ridden twenty-first century socioeconomic landscape. Many young adult readers will find the view of the twenty-first century in The Third Wave both objective and passionate, making it a fresh and rewarding reading experience—one that makes social science more relevant, accessible, and exciting.