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500 Ways to Change the World 500 Ways to Change the World

By John Bolton

I began this book with high hopes. I knew I was about to immerse myself in a throng of revolutionary ideas. I was prepared for this book to open my mind and challenge my preconceptions. The extent to which it did, and the extent to which it did not, are probably split twenty-five to seventy-five.

The book is separated into 18 chapters which embrace topics such as relationships, transport, health, science and technology, children and education and politics. In its brief foreword, 500 Ways is described as "reflecting both the light cast by the best in original thinking and the shadows of the problems these ideas have been brought forth to solve."

I'm not sure I'd agree with that. Granted, the book does have moments of thought-provoking brilliance. One of its more charming suggestions is to practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty. Another idea is for scientists to publish their research even if they fail to achieve the results they originally sought. Subscriptions to New Scientist would go through the roof. "In this month's cover story, Professor Ian Jenkins of the Institute for Molecular Research explains how his £4.6m research project collapsed because a lab technician used 'the wrong type of funnel'. The Institute's Financial Controller, Helen Carter, said, "this is exactly what we didn't want to happen."

Inevitably, every good idea is met head-on by a turkey: plying noisy late-night revellers with lollipops to keep them quiet; giving children stylised credit cards to thwart bullies who would otherwise harass them into handing over their dinner money. Or the idea of encouraging children to learn about major global conflicts by acting them out. "The hope is the idea would…become a tradition," the book says. A tradition, like Easter egg hunts and dressing up at Hallowe'en, presumably.

Some of the more entertaining ideas were the ones that turned spite against the spiteful: painting your garden tools pink to make it virtually impossible for thieves to sell them on, pasting "cancelled" stickers onto illegally placed posters advertising concerts and sales. All practical in their own way, but hardly likely to change the world.

While the book's intentions are commendable enough, I was left emotionally unaffected by it. Too many of the ideas were nonsensical and tried too hard to be iconoclastic (an annual worldwide internet-free day, where nobody on earth uses the internet for 24 hours - an impractical and futile idea that fails to recognise one obvious truth: that 90% of the internet is rubbish anyway, and more could be achieved to advance the cause of mankind by simply deleting it).

As for solving the world's problems, I'm afraid I'm a conventional kind of chap. If the theft of dinner money is such a monumental global concern, perhaps more should be done at home and in schools to instil society's moral and behavioural standards and values, rather than introducing a system of credit cards for children.

On the whole, it's a nice concept, but it's not a book I can recommend with any vehemence. That said, the idea for screaming booths (to vent that pent up angst) in shopping centres is a real touch of class. Number 387, if you're interested.

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