General Practitioners

Interpretations and Forecasts: 1922-1972

by Lewis Mumford
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 522 pp., $12.95

Earth, Inc.

by R. Buckminster Fuller
Anchor, 180 pp., $2.95

The Dymaxion World of Buckminster Fuller

by R. Buckminster Fuller and Robert Marks
Anchor, 245 pp., $4.95

Utopia or Oblivion

by R. Buckminster Fuller
Overlook, 365 pp., $11.95

Bucky: A Guided Tour of Buckminster Fuller

by Hugh Kenner
Morrow, 338 pp., $7.95

The servile specialist, eloquently ignorant of any department of thought but his own, and therefore fundamentally ignorant of essential relationships in his own field, was undoubtedly a product of the Brown Decades: but it is our own fault, not that of the earlier period, that he has become a chronic malady of our intellectual life, instead of a passing maladjustment.

Lewis Mumford wrote that forty-two years ago, and we have little to show for the years since except the knowledge that the chronic malady has been nurtured into a cancer. Knowledge becomes special knowledge, expertise, as though that were the only kind there is, or the only kind that could be trusted.

Mumford and Buckminster Fuller are extraordinarily active men now in their late seventies. Mumford has just published Interpretations and Forecasts: 1922-1972, “the one-volume Mumford: the essential thought,” except it isn’t, because his writing on cities is being reserved for a second volume. Something with Fuller’s name on it is appearing all the time. At hand are Earth, Inc., a small collection of short things done over the last twenty-five years; The Dymaxion World of Buckminster Fuller, which is mostly a collection of drawings and photographs; Utopia or Oblivion, a reissue of a 1969 collection of some of Fuller’s finest performances; perhaps most welcome of all is the best book on Fuller yet to appear, Bucky, by Hugh Kenner.

Both Mumford and Fuller are well known, but because neither is a specialist, they may have cause for wondering how much their prolonged and learned efforts have ever really been accepted. We have no name for such people. Specialists employ ugly terms, ranging from the condescending “generalist” to the curled lip “amateur” to, at least in Fuller’s case, “crank” and “crackpot.” Fuller sometimes calls himself a “comprehensivist,” which won’t do, and not only because it isn’t accurate. Mumford would probably just call himself a writer, but when someone calls himself that, he is often assumed to be out of a job, and being out of a job tends to mean being out of a university job, a specialist’s job.

The specialist, looking at Mumford or Fuller, is free to ask: What do they know? What definitive work did they do? The Library of Congress has trouble classifying their work, book-stores don’t know in what section they belong. We can invite Mumford and Fuller to give keynote speeches, we can give them impressive sounding awards, but what we really want is the person who wrote the best biography of Zachary Taylor, the best study of the effects of northern urbanization on first-generation immigrant blacks, the best account of the influence of Milton on Wordsworth. In the sciences we don’t even want books at all, just articles that report the findings.

The first thing to say about Interpretations and Forecasts is that Mumford’s early work is a pleasure to read, or reread. Here is a sample:

In the bareness of the Protestant cathedral of Geneva one has…

This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Premium Subscription — $99.95

Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.

One-Week Access — $4.99

Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on

If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.