Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

About Inventor of the Future

One of Esquire‘s 50 Best Biographies of All Time
A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
An Economist Best Book of 2022
The Week Magazine Book of the Week
A Next Big Idea Club nominee
A Book Marks Best-Reviewed Book of the Week
One of Lithub’s Most Anticipated Books of 2022
A Chicago Tribune Book for Summer 2022

From Alec Nevala-Lee, author of the Hugo and Locus Awards finalist Astounding, comes a revelatory biography of the visionary designer who defined the rules of startup culture and shaped America’s idea of the future.

During his lifetime, Buckminster Fuller was hailed as one of the greatest geniuses of the twentieth century. As the architectural designer, inventor, and futurist best known for the geodesic dome, Fuller enthralled a vast popular audience, inspired devotion from both the counterculture and the establishment, and was praised as a modern Leonardo da Vinci. Using a design strategy based on geometry, he became convinced that it was possible to provide for all humanity through the efficient use of planetary resources, which he embodied in the image of Spaceship Earth. From Epcot Center to the molecule named in his honor as the buckyball, Fuller’s legacy endures to this day, and his belief in the transformative potential of technology profoundly influenced the founders of Silicon Valley.

Inventor of the Future is the first authoritative biography to cover all aspects of Buckminster Fuller’s career, which extended from World War I through the digital revolution. Drawing upon thousands of unpublished documents and dozens of interviews, it reconstructs the true origins of his most famous inventions, including the Dymaxion Car and the Wichita House; his fraught relationships with his students and collaborators; his interactions with Frank Lloyd Wright, Isamu Noguchi, Clare Boothe Luce, John Cage, Steve Jobs, and many others; and his tumultuous private life, in which his determination to succeed on his own terms came at an immense personal cost. In an era of accelerating change, Fuller’s story remains enormously relevant, and his lessons for designers, activists, and innovators are as powerful and essential as ever.

Inventor of the Future: The Visionary Life of Buckminster Fuller is available now from Dey Street Books / HarperCollins. Order it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Bookshop.org

Critical Praise

“Revealing…Fuller could come across as a selfless seer, almost a secular saint; in Nevala-Lee’s biography he is all too human…The strength of this carefully researched and fair-minded biography is that the reader comes away with a greater understanding of a deeply complicated individual who overcame obstacles—many of his own making—to achieve a kind of imperfect greatness.”

—Witold Rybczynski, New York Times (Editors’ Choice)

“Brilliant…Alec Nevala-Lee’s writing is as serene and precise as one of Fuller’s geodesic domes…A genuinely groundbreaking book full of surprises.”

Esquire, “The 50 Best Biographies of All Time”

“Alec Nevala-Lee is a sure-footed guide to a dizzying life…Clear-eyed about his subject’s faults, Mr. Nevala-Lee nevertheless gives him his due as a dazzlingly original thinker…The portrait the author paints is compelling…[Fuller] comes alive in these pages as a visionary who rose above his imperfections to labour for the benefit of humankind.”

The Economist (Best Books of 2022)

“Ever the optimist, ever the outsider, Fuller never tired of trying to pull humanity toward a better future. Alec Nevala-Lee’s authoritative biography…tells Fuller’s story in greater detail than ever.”

—Shlomo Angel, The Wall Street Journal

“Nevala-Lee is something of an expert in a very specific type: twentieth-century men, working on the fringes of stem careers, who channeled the technological optimism of the years between World War I and the 1970s into careers as media icons…A labor of love…Meticulous and clearly written.”

—Rebecca Onion, The New Republic

“Various friends and acolytes wrote books about Fuller in his lifetime, but until now there has never been a thoroughgoing biography…Carefully researched…Nevala-Lee compares Fuller to Steve Jobs, a design visionary, and Elon Musk—both ‘outsiders who disrupted established fields’—as well as Jeff Bezos.”

—James Gleick, The New York Review of Books

“Alec Nevala-Lee’s new biography, Inventor of the Future, fact-checks Fuller’s legend and then corrects the record…He resists the hypnotic whirlpool surrounding Fuller…Nevala-Lee traverses a bedazzling cobweb of who’s who in 20th-century America.”

—Pradeep Niroula, Los Angeles Review of Books

“A full portrait of the fascinating life of a famed disruptor…Nevala-Lee draws on abundant archival material to fashion a thoroughly researched, comprehensive biography…A perceptive and clear-eyed biography of a unique figure.”

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“This probing biography of Buckminster Fuller distinguishes man from myth while giving the iconic designer and futurist due credit for influencing generations of big thinkers…Fuller’s most enduring creation was his own ethos, that of the free-thinking futurist whose design solutions would solve the planet’s problems. Such ideas would take deep root, especially in Silicon Valley.”

Booklist (starred review)

“A fascinating portrait of a larger-than-life figure.”

Publishers Weekly

“Meticulously researched….for readers seeking a deep understanding of a countercultural icon of futurist thinking that has impacted many modern tech industry leaders.”

Library Journal

“The creator of the geodesic dome, the coiner of ‘Spaceship Earth’ and ‘synergy,’ comes through as flawed but immensely energetic, gifted, and visionary…Compelling.”

Audiofile

“The first complete portrait of both the man and the myth.”

—John Markoff, author of Whole Earth: The Many Lives of Stewart Brand

“Buckminster Fuller was part design guru, part visionary futurist, part bold technocrat, part New England patrician, and part insecure striver. Until now we have never had a book about him that portrays the full extent of his complex and contradictory character, and explains how he could be at once a quirky iconoclast and an inspiration to technological empires. Alec Nevala-Lee’s beautifully written Inventor of the Future is the perceptive, nuanced biography of Fuller that we have needed, and it is as engaging to read as Fuller’s extraordinary geodesic domes are to look at.”

—Paul Goldberger, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry

“It requires a Dymaxion biographer to take the full measure of Buckminster Fuller….In his effervescent Inventor of the Future, Alec Nevala-Lee proves himself Bucky’s match, debunking myths and ferreting out deeper truths at every twist and turn of this remarkable saga of an unlikely rise to global fame and influence. Nevala-Lee is the rare biographer of a ‘great man’ who successfully links private and public life, showing how Fuller’s incomparable genius was both innate and inspired by the synergy of meetings with a cast of brilliant characters….For Fuller, a better future was never beyond imagining, an optimism this fine biography makes contagious.”

—Megan Marshall, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life

“Nevala-Lee brings back to life one of the most influential American minds of the twentieth century—revealing both the brilliance and the flaws that are contributing to the bold and radical technological reimagining of how we think and live.”

—David Edwards, author of Creating Things That Matter: The Art and Science of Innovations That Last

“This is a deceptively artful book of circuitous tensions and great circles…where, finally, all the loops and time-bends of Buckminster Fuller’s improbable life come close to merging into one.”

—Paul Hendrickson, author of Plagued by Fire: The Dreams and Furies of Frank Lloyd Wright

Written by nevalalee

July 26, 2022 at 9:54 am

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