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Inventor of the Future: The Visionary Life of Buckminster Fuller

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From Alec Nevala-Lee, the author of the Hugo and Locus Award 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 and futurist best known for the geodesic dome, he enthralled a vast popular audience, inspired devotion from both the counterculture and the establishment, and was praised as a modern Leonardo da Vinci. To his admirers, he exemplified what one man could accomplish by approaching urgent design problems using a radically unconventional set of strategies, which he based on a mystical conception of the universe's geometry. His views on sustainability, as embodied in the image of Spaceship Earth, convinced him that it was possible to provide for all humanity through the efficient use of planetary resources. 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 Fuller's career. Drawing on meticulous research, dozens of interviews, and thousands of unpublished documents, Nevala-Lee has produced a riveting portrait that transcends the myth of Fuller as an otherworldly generalist. It reconstructs the true origins of his most famous inventions, including the Dymaxion Car, the Wichita House, and the dome itself; 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 example remains enormously relevant, and his lessons for designers, activists, and innovators are as powerful and essential as ever.

672 pages, Hardcover

First published August 2, 2022

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About the author

Alec Nevala-Lee

28 books95 followers
I was born in Castro Valley, California and graduated from Harvard College with a bachelor's degree in classics. My book Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction (Dey Street Books / HarperCollins) was a Hugo and Locus Awards finalist and named one of the best books of the year by The Economist. I'm also the author of the novels The Icon Thief, City of Exiles, and Eternal Empire, all published by Penguin; my short stories have appeared in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Lightspeed Magazine, and The Year's Best Science Fiction; and I've written for such publications as the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Longreads, The Rumpus, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. My latest book is Inventor of the Future: The Visionary Life of Buckminster Fuller, which was released by Dey Street Books / HarperCollins on August 2, 2022. I live with my wife and daughter in Oak Park, Illinois.

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5 stars
27 (25%)
4 stars
40 (38%)
3 stars
29 (27%)
2 stars
8 (7%)
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1 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 15 of 15 reviews
24 reviews
July 21, 2022
I won this book in a giveaway. I will usually read just about any bios or autobios about interesting people, even if Ive never heard of them, which happened to be true in this case. I should start by saying the book is actually 477 pages long instead of the 672 it says. The extra pages are acknowledgements, notes, bibliography, and index. That being said, this book was mostly way over my head. Im sure "bucky" was a very smart man and a revolutionary of his time, but with all the geometry and philosophical talk, I just couldnt understand his level of thinking. If you know who this guy is and are a fan of his work, Im sure you would love this book. Its very informative and Im sure educational, even if I didnt understand much from it. It starts with his birth, and ends with beyond his death, and all the patents and inventions and happenings inbetween, as well as info on his personal life and friends. Boy did he know a lot of people! Famous people and influential people as well. There were just times to me the book seemed boring and I found my mind wandering off. Am I glad I won it and read it? Yes. Will I read it again? No.
Profile Image for Jim.
213 reviews12 followers
August 14, 2022
I wonder if Alec Nevala-Lee will get a reputation as a visionary killer. After his book Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Gold Age of Science Fiction came out, John W. Campbell’s name was removed from the award created to honor him, and the reputations of Asimov, Heinlein, Hubbard, and the science fiction Golden Age declined. As I read the first part of Inventor of the Future: The Visionary Life of Buckminster Fuller Nevala-Lee made me strongly dislike Buckminster Fuller by carefully chronicling Fuller’s personal faults. But by the end of the book, I was willing to overlook them. Bucky never redeems himself, but Nevala-Lee’s excellent biography brings everything into perspective. It brings closure to some of my hippie and New Age fantasies.

The rest of my review is on my blog:


Profile Image for Shrike58.
527 reviews7 followers
January 25, 2023
My reaction to this book is going to be conditioned by the fact that Fuller was never a hero of mine. Sure, I probably noticed the Dymaxion Car by the time I was 12 (1970), and became aware of the man's architectural achievements by the time I was in high school (the mid-1970s). But, by the time I was in my twenties, and old enough and educated enough to have some engagement with the Fuller's writings, my hot take was that I was looking at a lot of double-talk. This is not to mention that I tended to lump Fuller with the rest of the architects who were being criticized for the failures of the "International" Style (see the writings of Peter Blake).

Fast-forward forty or so years, and we have this new life of Fuller, by an ostensible admirer, and Nevala-Lee finds much to be dubious about. Too much hard drinking, too many dubious sexual adventures, too much exploitation of other folks' intellectual property, and too much personal myth making. My overall reaction; so what? This all seems par for the course for a self-invented American man of affairs of the 20th century: "There is no such thing as an original sin." Still, there is the critique that Fuller's personal style might be one of the man's most notable lingering influences, and he basically created the template of entrepreneur as public philosopher, as exemplified by the Silicon Valley Set. However, that Nevala-Lee can trace Fuller's continued influences in the worlds of architecture, the physical sciences, and applied humanities is what impresses me most; this is considering that Fuller's real original goal was to become the Henry Ford of private housing, not the guru of geodesic domes. Keeping in mind that this is a rather dry read, there is much food for thought here.
Profile Image for Sarah.
1 review15 followers
January 17, 2023
I wish this book explored non-traditional structures in the way that Bucky did. It was a bit tedious to read a chronological play-by-play and I came away knowing less about his ideas than I wish I did. However, I really appreciated the candor with with the author examined Fuller's life because the honesty allowed for a comprehensive understanding of how he achieved what he did.
Profile Image for R.J. Gilmour.
Author 2 books10 followers
August 23, 2022
Nevala-Lee's biography of Buckminster Fuller is one of those books that seems more interesting than it actually is. A large tome at 672 pages I put the book down after a couple of chapters. Sadly, while the book is filled with lots of biographical information about Fuller the writing was akin to listening to someone drone a speech in a monotonous tone, that puts you to sleep. Maybe others will have more luck than me.
5 reviews
November 17, 2022
Take it slowly

It took a while to read this. Not because of poor writing, but because Bucky Fuller comes off like a real jerk for much of it. I think l'd like to read some more of Fuller's writing or speeches. This feels like a definitive bio with interesting commentary on Fuller's impact.
2 reviews
December 26, 2022
I was disappointed by the quality of this book. Most chapters of the book unroll as a a series of explanations of the many things Fuller claimed to have done but didn't. This is certainly a fair criticism of the man who seems to regularly steal ideas and fail to give proper credit. At the same time, the book only alludes to the lasting impact Fuller's ideas and teachings have had on so many people, without really giving any serious analysis to the ideas themselves. Most of the book reads as a travel itinerary where the author rambles about Fuller went here and met her, then there and met him, ad nauseam.
I was left with a poor understand the Fuller's worldview and ideas. I wish the author had spent considerably more time exploring the actual ideas of the man he's writing about instead of compiling a list of people he met and places he'd been. The epilogue tops it out with a laughable attack on Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos that seems to do nothing but show the author's skepticism of capatilism and technological advancement.
Overall I certainly wish I had spent my time reading something else.
Profile Image for Patricia Ravasio.
Author 2 books6 followers
September 11, 2022
Sorry, truthseekers, but this author simply doesn’t get Bucky. The book is basically the story of how capitalism’s profit motives derailed some of the best ideas of the last century. It goes on and on to describe the funding and construction of Bucky’s domes, including the frequent infighting and squabbles over credits, without ever even attempting to dig into the big WHY. Why all the fuss over domes? Because they reveal HOW NATURE BUILDS. This wisdom, of the design principles of nature, could lead us directly out of our climate change quagmire, if only we understood their importance. Instead the author seeks to profit off Bucky’s human foibles — his love affairs and struggles with ego — without ever even touching the essence of this man’s genius. What a shame that it’s the first Bucky book to get any kind of publicity! If you want to understand what this Leonardo da Vinci of the 20th century was actually getting at, try this book instead. bit.ly/buckylove
Profile Image for Tobin.
29 reviews
September 17, 2022
Must read for anyone who worships Bucky Fuller. A well written detailed account of a man who accomplished little except stealing others ideas, inflating his own ego, bootlicking patrons regardless of their human rights abuses, stalking teenage girls, predatory behavior, cruelty, partnering with literal cult leaders, and consistent exaggeration, lying, falsehoods. He was never an architect, mathematician, successful entrepreneur, or anything else. But he knew how to create a persona and that’s what people loved.
Profile Image for Steve.
588 reviews3 followers
October 30, 2022
Nevala-Lee has penned the definitive biography of Buckminster Fuller. The success of this book depends upon how much the reader wants to know about Fuller. Although it was obviously well-researched, and was well-written, I discovered that I didn't care about reading that many pages about Fuller!
Profile Image for Jerry Summers.
377 reviews1 follower
October 17, 2022
Alec Nevala-Lee has proven the “never meet your idols”. The biography of R. Buckminster Fuller describes him as self-aggrandizing, petty and verbose. The EPCOT Spaceship Earth is what got me interested in Bucky to begin with and he had little to know impact on the construction. Bucky traveled so much speaking about futurism. I travel for fun.

I live on Planet Earth! Man was born with legs, not roots!
Displaying 1 - 15 of 15 reviews

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