Thinking in Time

by Ernest R. May, Richard E. Neustadt

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Thinking In Time by Richard Neustadt and Ernest May is an exploration of how to use historical events to interpret and act upon modern day problems, using the date from historical events to plan for modern contingencies. The two authors, who are both prominent history professors, explore the idea that every event has a historical equivalent, and by finding these equivalents, we can interpret modern day occurrences with ease.

One major theme in this work is that history repeats itself. This is a common thread in many pieces of work, and it is the basis behind the idea of archetypes and historical interpretation. The authors reason that there is nothing new that happens in humanity: every moment or action has a historical parallel. They analyze many historical occurrences—from the Bay of Pigs to the Cuban Missile Crisis to Martin Luther King Jr.—and show how, while these were all very pivotal moments, similar ones have happened before.

Another major theme is that history affects individuals. This theme may seem like common sense, but it is much more important than it seems at face value. More often than not, when discussing history people discuss the sweeping changes and the broad view of how an event effected nations or groups at large. The authors take the time to say that history effects individuals and that, by using an individual observer and trying to understand their reaction to an event, you can begin to build a cohesive view of that event in a historical context.

One other major theme is the idea that you need to challenge your assumptions. Challenging one's assumptions is always a good practice because it can open us up to new possibilities we may not have been prepared for. In a historical context, there is a proclivity towards modernity bias and national bias that can cloud our judgment. By challenging these assumptions, we are much better able to correctly act on world-changing events.

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