Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

At the age of eighty-five, R. Buckminster Fuller, one of the best-known scientist-engineers of the twentieth century, wrote Critical Path, a book ranging far beyond science and technology into the realm of history and autobiography, philosophy and economics, and, at times, even theology. It describes his personal commitment, made in 1927, to use himself as a “scientific guinea pig . . . in a lifelong experiment” in order to discover what one individual, without money or university degree, could accomplish to improve the quality of life for all humanity aboard “Spaceship Earth.” This experiment was to be performed using his own experientially gained information, “the products of his own thinking and intuition.” Critical Path concludes by describing his subsequent technological accomplishments: the geodesic dome, the Dymaxion 4-D house, the Dymaxion Sky-Ocean world map, the geoscope, and the concepts of “ephemeralization” and “World Game”—all created to solve the problems of mankind.

When Buckminster Fuller began his personal experiment in 1927, he decided that at least a half century must pass before any improvement to the planet could be measured. This book, which he considered his most important work, offers an assessment of those improvements.

Critical Path covers an enormous amount of territory. It is divided into three major sections bracketed by a lengthy foreword and introduction and two extensive final appendices: a “Chronology of Scientific Discoveries and Artifacts” and a “Chronology of Prominent World Events: 1895 to Date.” Throughout the book, Fuller’s intention is to overcome humanity’s inability to see itself in the broad contexts of time and space. He attempts to clarify the relationship of man to the planet Earth—his only refuge—moving in the dimension of time at a rate which humans cannot physically perceive.

Reflecting this concern with an understanding of time, section 1 begins with a 120-page history of mankind. Fuller suggests that the human need for and use of water was a motivation for development of the species, specifically, the development of river and ocean travel. The need to travel and explore rivers and oceans, in turn, stimulated considerable technological progress. For example, Fuller suggests that the Bronze Age began...

(The entire section is 960 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Anderson, Jerry. Review in Library Journal. CVI (May 15, 1981), p. 1061.

Hubbard, B. M. “Critical Path to an All-Win World: Buckminster Fuller Designs the New Age,” in Futurist. CXV (June, 1981), pp. 31-37.

Kenner, Hugh. Review in Saturday Review. VIII (February, 1981), p. 58.

McBride, S. D. Review in The Christian Science Monitor. April 13, 1981, sec. B, p. 3.

Murchie, Guy. “Bucky Fuller Orbits Spaceship Earth in High Gear,” in The Chicago Tribune. March 22, 1981, sec. 7, p. 11.

Traub, James. Review in The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVI (April 19, 1981), p. 12.