Life courses, both professional and personal, are often directed by unplanned experiences. At crossroads, which path is followed and which hard choices are made can change the direction of one’s future. Wendell Bell’s life illustrates how totally unforeseen events can shape individual lives. As he notes, despite our hopes and our plans for the future, there is also serendipity, feedback, twists and turns, chance and circumstance, all of which shape our futures with sometimes surprising results. In Bell’s case, such twists and turns of chance and circumstance led to his role in developing the new field of futures studies.
In Memories of the Future, Bell recognizes the importance of images of the future and the effect of these images on events to come. Such images—dreams, visions, or whatever we call them—help to determine our actions, which, in turn, help shape the future, although not always in ways that we intend. Bell illustrates, partly with the story of his own life, how people remember such past images of the future and how the memories of them linger and are often used to judge the real outcomes of their lives.
This is a fascinating view of the work of an important social scientist and the people and events that helped define his life. It is also about American higher education, especially from the end of World War II through the 1960s and 1970s, a period of educational transformation that included the spread of the merit system; the increase in ethnic, racial, gender, and social diversity among students and faculty; and a massive increase in research and knowledge