What Might Have Been: The French View

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The French National Library has a wonderful exhibit of prints from 1910, imagining the wonderful new world of the year 2000. For instance, how we would learn:

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And, le train électrique Paris-Pekin*:

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Studies of "how the past imagined the future" make up a rich and established field -- for instance, with David Gelernter's 1995 book about the "futuristic" 1939 New York World's Fair. Or in a different way Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward. But if the library's presentation of these images is not a breakthrough concept, the drawings are wonderful, in themselves and as specimens of the things people can envision and the things they can't. For instance, the imagined Paris-to-Peking train actually looks quite similar to some recent drawings of Chinese trains designed to run on normal freeways -- but suspended in a way that keeps them above the traffic.

One more after the jump. You can browse through the whole Utopie suite at the Bibliothèque nationale's site (captions in French, but there are tabs for other languages). Thanks to former guest blogger Edward Goldstick for this find.

Long-distance air travel of the future:

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* There was a time in their high school careers when one of my sons was immersed in French and the other in Japanese. This is the kind of phrase the Japanese-studying son would use to illustrate his "my brother has it too easy" complaint that French and English were essentially the same language. Since in Japanese le train électrique would be (according to me) roughly パリから北京行きの電車. On the other hand, my faith that French and English are the same language ebbs whenever I am in France.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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