cover image Resilience: 
Why Things Bounce Back

Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back

Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy. Free Press, $26 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4516-8380-6

This intriguing, wide-ranging probe ponders the underlying principles behind whether complex systems of every sort—government, business, social, natural—function or fail. Zolli, director of the global innovation network PopTech, and financial and technology journalist Healy ask: since “[v]olatility of all sorts has become the new normal,” is it even possible to isolate causal factors in an ever more complex world? Their findings emphasize the importance of examining the importance of elemental interconnectedness in contrast to isolating and addressing features individually. To demonstrate deep linkages between apparently unrelated events, they cite the role Hurricane Katrina played leading up to the 2007 Mexican food riots. This is followed by analyses of international terrorism, the 2008 financial crisis, and the ad hoc international effort to assist Haiti following its catastrophic 2010 earthquakes. Indeed, the term “adhocracy,” coined by 1970s futurist Alvin Toffler, is invoked to describe the spontaneous coalition of forces that the digital age makes possible. Throughout, Zolli and Healy commendably avoid simplistic nostrums and note a potential problem: that increased systemic complexity can itself be a source of fragility. And while the measurement and feedback that illuminate a system’s health are vital, even they occasionally bite back. The authors emphasize “there are no finish lines here and no silver bullets,” though their vision is optimistic and should engage anyone contemplating our shared future. Agent: Zoe Pagnamenta, the Zoe Pagnamenta Agency. (July)