Nate Silver, George Monbiot, Michael Pollan, Sara Maitland, Robin Ince, Polly Morland, Tony Juniper, Naomi Wolf and many more – all in this thought-provoking book.

The Importance of Ideas ebook

The Importance of Ideas: 16 thoughts to get you thinking
edited by Andrew Kelly


Elephants in Europe, heroes, the end of neoliberalism: the ebook before you is unlike any other. Within its virtual pages, you will find a plethora of provoking ideas from thinkers, scientists, writers and comedians. In their short contributions, authors as diverse as Nate Silver and Naomi Wolf, Polly Morland and Michael Pollan offer their thoughts on everything from Big Data to big appetites.

Ideas – new, unexpected, creative, counter-intuitive and reflective – are an irresistible source of joy. They get the grey matter turning over, they can inform and inspire, prompt us change our minds or discover why we disagree with something. Without ideas, life is drab and flat. With a new flow of ideas, it is vibrant and exciting. The sixteen ideas contained within this ebook will both take you to new subjects and invite you to look afresh at ones you know well.

Drawn from the some of the most popular speakers at the Bristol Festival of Ideas, and introduced and edited by the Festival’s curator, Andrew Kelly, The Importance of Ideas is an utterly original assortment of thoughts to make you think.

The full list of contributors, in alphabetical order: Katharine Baldock, Sanjay Basu, Bidisha, Robin Ince, Tony Juniper, Sunder Katwala, Sara Maitland, Jane Memmott, George Monbiot, Polly Morland, Geoff Mulgan, Michael Pollan, Lord David Sainsbury, Michael Sandel, Nate Silver, Andrew Solomon, David Stuckler, Naomi Wolf.


About the Authors

The Bristol Festival of Ideas

The Bristol Festival of Ideas aims to stimulate people’s minds and passions with an inspiring programme of discussion and debate throughout the year. Featuring numerous Festival speakers, The Importance of Ideas captures some of the most thought-provoking concepts from some of the world’s leading writers.


This extract is taken from the introduction to The Importance of Ideas

New ideas, and the battle of ideas, remain critical in debating and determining the future of how we live, work, play, are educated and governed. We are living in extraordinary times. We can get information quickly at the click of a mouse; new scientific discoveries tell us more about the origins of the universe and of human beings; photographs show us the surface of Mars; and creativity across the arts and media continues to flourish. But we also live in a time where there is too much information; where stale debates about religion and science threaten the health of both; where – despite overwhelming evidence about the origins of climate change – a few commentators and politician climate change deniers dominate the airwaves; and where populist politics rule.

We continue to need people to help us guide the way forward (I’d call them public intellectuals but that’s a step too far for the UK); to write and publish books and articles; and to join in debate. The Bristol Festival of Ideas was launched ten years ago. We now organise around 150 events a year in addition to larger-scale projects (such as the programme marking the centenary of the first world war in 2014 and our 2015 celebration of the birth of Romantic poetry in Bristol) and specialist festivals, sometimes annual with our Festival of Economics and sometimes one-off – the 2015 Festival of the Future City is a good example. We’re about arts and sciences; about exploring the complexity behind problems and solutions; about bringing people to Bristol to debate with the thinkers, researchers and the people of the city.

You will find ideas in this ebook to that will make you stop and think. Some of these ideas have been long discussed and yet still merit debate; others – such as the better use of big data – are relatively new. Each idea has something to tell us about the times that we live in and can help us look forward to a new future.

Nate Silver argues that we can make more of data, but we need to demand more of ourselves in the process. Naomi Wolf examines the vagina and female creativity. Bidisha describes Ali Smith’s Artful, winner of our 2013 Best Book of Ideas award. Andrew Solomon shows how our differences unite us. Polly Morland redefines courage, suggesting how we each might become a little braver.

Robin Ince tells us to look with fresh eyes at the wonder around us – a manifesto for the festival. Michael Pollan examines why we are eating more but cooking less, and the impact of this on health. David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu assess the impact that austerity measures have on wellbeing. Sunder Katwala looks beyond the immigration numbers game. David Sainsbury explains why, with the death of neo-liberalism, a progressive capitalism is needed. Geoff Mulgan declares that the predatory ‘locusts’ of capitalism must be contained in favour of the productive ‘bees’. Michael Sandel challenges us to rethink the role of money and markets.

Not surprisingly, in a city known for its alternative ways of doing things and for being European Green Capital 2015, nature and the environment feature strongly in festival debates. Tony Juniper explores how we are failing nature and how we can save it; Katherine Baldock and Jane Memmott reveal how cities can lead the way in the recovery of nature; and George Monbiot shows us the potential of rewilding. Finally, Sara Maitland looks at fairytales and the forests, and how both are at risk.

It’s essential that there is a greater level of debate and a wider involvement in that debate about the key issues that face us. The list is a long one: from 2014 we are looking at, for example, the decline of the middle class; cities and regions versus the capital; resurgent feminism and the role of men; infrastructure and HS2; the internet and its impact on people and society; paying for culture in a time when people want content for free; the ongoing crisis of capitalism and the lack of viable alternatives; the small state and whether this is actually a good thing – all in addition to the usual round of great ideas from great thinkers and writers. We hope – and this is a hope justified by the contributions in this small ebook as well as in the festival itself – that by providing a platform for thinkers and debate we can shine some light on the importance of ideas and how they help with the problems and opportunities before us.

↑ Back to top


Sign up up for the Guardian Shorts mailing list

* please fill me out