Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes

Anyone desiring a frank assessment of some of the most serious risks facing the planet--sea-level rise, the hazards of powerful artificial intelligence--would do well to read Richard Clarke and Randolph Eddy's provocative Warnings. Inspired by the myth of Cassandra--the princess of Troy cursed with the ability to foresee the downfall of her city while unable to persuade her fellow citizens of its impending doom--the authors methodically survey the catastrophic consequences of recent unheeded warnings and offer guidance they hope will prevent repetition.

National security experts Clarke (Against All Enemies) and Eddy offer seven case studies featuring "accurate visions of looming disasters"--including the SEC's failure to credit multiple warnings about Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme and government officials' heedlessness concerning hurricane threats to New Orleans. These grim stories provide the foundation for Warnings' second half, in which the authors unveil their "Cassandra Coefficient," a matrix for assessing the risk that decisionmakers will ignore current predictions of dangers like threats from hackers or a pandemic surpassing the scale of 1918's Spanish flu. Their goal, simply put, is to "spot those with sentinel intelligence before a disaster occurs."

While it's reasonable to hope that some of the most dire predictions discussed in this clear-eyed work won't materialize, wise government and corporate leaders should consider adding Warnings to their reading lists. They just won't want to curl up with it at bedtime. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

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