Buckminster Fuller is one remarkable Earthian, to recycle a Fullerian word. Sailor, poet, mathematician, thinker, master doodler, Bucky is the visionary whom Marshall McLuhan called "the Leonardo da Vinci of our time."
He still lectures twice a week, speaking at a rate of 7,000 words an hour, and he holds some 47 honorary degrees and more than 818 patents in 55 countries. According to Fuller's own calculations over 37,000 articles have been written about him and such mountainous achievements as his Dymaxion house, his Dymaxion car, Synergetics, and the World Game.
Fuller is probably best known for designing the spider-web-strong geodesic dome, of which 100,000 now populate the globe. One of them, the US pavillion at Montreal's 1967 Expo, was dubbed "Buckminster Cathedral" by Peter Ustinov.
Fuller has written 23 books, of which "Critical Path," just published, is his most recent. It is a profound but difficult volume, which, as the author says, "attempts to discover why God included humans in the Universe." Parts of the book read with the density of a linguistics text and should be pondered and digested in small bites.
The inventor was never one to let school stand in the way of his education (he was expelled twice from Harvard and later appointed as the university's Carles Eliot Norton professor of poetry, a chair held by T. S. Eliot), and he has a propensity for creating new but often enigmatic terms to carry his message.
For example, he opens "Critical Path" with this quotation from an earlier book:
"CONVENTIONAL CRITICAL-PATH CONCEPTIONING is linear and self-under-informative. Only spherically expanding and contracting, spinning, polarly involuting and evoluting orbital-system feedbacks are both comprehensively and incisively informative. Shperical-orbital critical-feedback circuits are pulsative, tidal, importing and exporting. Critical-path elements are not overlapping linear modules in a plane: they are systematically interspiraling complexes of omni-interrelevant regenerative feedback circuits. --
Fuller confesses in the introduction that his new 471-page book "will take all the evenings of one week to read." I would append to that estimate an additional evening or two for contemplating the opening page.
Fortunately one doesn't have to understand Fullereze to appreciate that "Critical path" is jammed with delicious facts and keen insights. Who would have guessed that: a two-mile diameter dome enclosing mid-Manhattan between 22nd and 62nd streets would reduce its energy costs 84-fold . . . Bucky's Harvard 1917 class of 700 had only three automobile-owning members during its freshman year, and one of them was Ray Stanley, whose father invented the Stanley Steamer . . . in any 24-hours period in the US, two million cars stand at red lights burning the amount of energy generated "by the full efforts of two million horses being completely wasted as they jump up and down going nowhere" . . . while working on a commission from the Indian government to design new airports in Delhi, Bombay, and Madras, Fuller discovered in 1970 at an old British fortress that the banner with 13 stars and stripes that George Washington flew over his Continental Army was not an original Betsy Ross design but an adaptation of the East India Company flag?
Fuller's perceptions are penetrating. He writes: "At present I am a passenger on Spaceship Earth . . . . I don't know what I am. I know that I am not a category, a high-bred specialization. I am not a thing -- a noun. I am not flesh. At eighty-five I have taken in over a thousand tons of air, food, and water, which temporarily became my flesh and which progressively disassociated from me. You and I seem to be verbs -- evolutionary processes. Are we not integral functions of the universe?"
The author who jokes he "was born with the fortunate handicap of farsightedness" (until the age of 4 he was unable to focus on anything within his hand's grasp) sensitively recalls in "Critical Path" the turning point of his life. It was in 1927, when he was pennilesss, living in a Chicago slum, grieving over the death of his daughter, and contemplating suicide on the shore of Lake Michigan that he decided to jettison his past and rededicate his life to serving humanity.
His new book is highly autobiographical, and in the the appendices to "Critical Path" Fuller provides a delightful "Conofile," which overlays the events of his life on a chronology of major technological, economic, and political world events (". . . 1901 Wright brothers glider; Marconi's transatlantic radio telegraph; RBF enters elementary school . . . 1954 Supreme Court orders desegragation; Walter O'Malley, owner of Brooklyn Dodgers, comes to RBF to develop geodesic dome to be installed over Dodgers' Brooklyn baseball stadium . . .").
"Critical Path" provides plenty of marrow and gristle on which dedicated Bucky Fuller fans can masticate. For the uninitiated, who may see Fuller in the words of a 1930 Time magazine book review as "an architect who arrives incoherently at accurate conclusions," I would recommend a trip to the library for an older, more literate and elegant book on the inventor's life and ideas. "bucky, A Guided Tour of Buckminster Fuller" published in 1973, is to my mind still the best on Fuller, because, as its author, Hugh Kenner, says, it tries to "give a sense of the man his own books may obscure."