The ancient Greek scholar Plato wrote that the ideal ruler would be a "philosopher king," a statesman devoted to wisdom.
In many ways former Vice President Al Gore seems like the man who aspires to be America's philosopher king, a visionary who embodies humankind's highest aspirations. Unlike many politicians, he didn't tell people what they wanted to hear; he has discussed what he believed they needed to know.
In Gore's new book, "The Future," the man who came within a single Supreme Court vote of becoming the most powerful person in the world writes about the challenges we face in the decades ahead.
Gore, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, appears Feb. 12 in San Francisco at Herbst Theater and Feb. 13 at Dominican University in San Rafael.
Kirkus Reviews calls "The Future" a "tour de force of Big Picture thinking" and biologist E.O. Wilson compares Gore's forward-looking analysis to that of Thomas Jefferson.
It may not be light reading, but the book is accessible and at times inspiring. And despite the grim trends Gore recognizes -- climate change, environmental degradation and centralization of power -- he provides reasons for hope and ideas for improving our lives.
The San Rafael event is sponsored by Corte Madera's Book Passage bookstore. Co-owner Elaine Petrocelli noted that this will be Gore's fifth Book Passage event.
"He's very relaxed, a terrific speaker," she said. "He's a major thinker, and he speaks without notes."
At press time there were still some tickets available but Petrocelli says she expects the event to sell out.
"The Future" went on sale last week and has impressed bookstore staff.
"Our country would be a better place if more politicians, both past and present, took it upon themselves to use the platform of national recognition to vigorously educate both themselves and others on the pressing issues and changing landscapes of our world today," said Kira Ehrmann, assistant manager of Copperfield's in Sebastopol.
Gore can "alienate some people because he's very intellectual," Ehrmann said, but she found the book illuminating. And she's impressed that despite the excruciating way Gore lost the 2000 presidential election, he chose not to retire from public life but to actively advocate for what he believed would be the most important issue of the 21st century.
And she believes his high profile gives the book more authority than a similar tome written by a leading academic.
"This is not to say he's more intelligent than a scientist or an economist," she said, but "the culmination of his experience (as someone who has a sense of what is politically possible) gives his voice an extra oomph."
In "The Future," Gore writes that human-driven climate change has become "a geologic force ... the chief force behind evolution."
On a Jan. 30 appearance on "The Daily Show," Gore told host Jon Stewart that 2012 was the hottest year in recorded history and that Superstorm Sandy was not an aberration but a harbinger of even fiercer hurricanes to come.
Gore said the devastation wrought by Sandy may finally make climate change a front-burner issue, but he was appalled at the lack of discussion about it during last year's presidential debates.
"Not one single journalist in any of the debates asked any of the candidates a single question about the climate crisis," Gore told Stewart. "That is pathetic."
Noting the U.S. is still the most powerful economy on the planet, Gore said we must repair our political system to address climate change.
"The United States is the only nation that can lead the world toward a solution on this issue," Gore said Jan. 31 on the PBS News Hour.
In the book, Gore writes that ultimately he's an optimist, not because current forecasts suggest a bright future, but because he hopes and believes "we will find ways to see and think clearly about obvious trends."
Ultimately, he writes, he is hopeful "not out of fear, but because I believe in the future."
Might Gore try again to become our nation's philosopher king?
"I'm a recovering politician," Gore wrote in his book. "And the chances of relapse have been diminishing for long enough to increase my confidence that I will not succumb to that temptation again."
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