Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) was one of the 20th century’s most innovative figures. In many ways, his perspectives on better ways to use our finite resources were not only practical, but brilliant. There was also an undeniable beauty in the ways he arranged shapes to form things, such as his famous Geodesic dome. The recently published Buckminster Fuller: Poet of Geometry by Cole Gerst offers a compelling look at the man, and his life’s work.
Richard Buckminster Fuller was his full name, although he was called “Bucky” by those who knew him. Or knew of him. Bucky’s geodesic dome was one of 25 patents he was granted, and they include all sorts of fascinating designs. One of the reasons Fuller remains a hero to many is that he used his extraordinary abilities for the bettering of the human condition, rather than for personal gain.
His interest in architecture, which led to the dome and the majority of his other achievements, stemmed from a heartbreaking personal experience. The Fuller’s daughter Alexandra died in 1922 from complications of polio and spinal meningitis. He and his wife Anne lived in an older, damp and drafty house, and he partially blamed their home for the death of their daughter. Whether the house had anything to do with her passing or not, he was inspired to work on ways to build better affordable housing for all.
It is ironic that Fuller did very poorly in geometry as a student, for it later became his guiding principle. Gerst’s title is well-chosen, for the manner in which Bucky used triangles in particular was architecturally poetic. One of his great insights was in seeing them everywhere in nature, and extrapolating from there.
“Doing the most with the least” was Fuller’s guiding principal. While Gerst refrains from directly stating it, the idea of doing the most with the least was nothing short of heresy in the post-war United States. In a land where “What’s good for General Motors is good for America,“ Fuller’s point of view was not a popular one with the powerful elite.
What I really enjoyed about this book is that it provides an excellent overview of Fuller, without getting too technical. Bucky himself published 30 books, and there are other biographies available. But in Poet of Geometry, Gerst offers an excellent introduction to the fascinating world of Buckminster Fuller.
One of the finest aspects of this book are the author’s watercolor paintings. They adorn nearly every page, and are very appealing. Although Poet of Geometry is not a children’s book, I recently had the opportunity to share it with some young nieces and nephews, and they loved the illustrations.
Fuller coined the term “Spaceship Earth,” and it is no surprise that he was a big favorite of Stewart Brand, the founder of The Whole Earth Catalog. Buckminster Fuller was one of the first to look at our planet in a holistic way, and to realize that we all had to work together to make it a better place. He was quickly marginalized for this point of view, and even made out to be something of a nut.
It is nothing short of amazing to me that after the one-two punch of Hurricane Sandy and the Arctic Blast of 2013, the Wall Street-entrenched interests are still denying climate change. I mean, they are being forced to deal with it, like right in their faces. Yet money trumps all. And common-sense people who say the we are on a suicide march unless something is done are treated as if they are crazy. Buckminster Fuller is a hero to those who are actually concerned about the future, and about the world our children will inherit. In fact, he was a pioneer.
Buckminster Fuller: Poet of Geometry is just about the perfect introduction to the great man. And with the wonderful watercolor illustrations, it is kind of a stealth bomb book, too. Kids love those designs, and rightly so. As they get older, and begin to understand what it was Bucky was working towards, they might see that we all need to work together to make the world a better place.
In so many ways, Buckminster Fuller is an inspirational figure, and Cole Gerst has done a marvelous job of telling his story with Poet of Geometry.[amazon template=iframe image&chan=default&asin=0615873448]