Nine Chains To The Moon


Buckminster Fuller

New York, 1938.

Fuller's first book is an outlandish collection of essays in feverish celebration of the technical and design possibilities of the twentieth century. The background to the publishing of this book involves a story which almost bulges with significance in terms of Fuller's standing and prospects in the late 1930s. He worked on the book during 1936, and it contains 43 assorted essays with such titles as:

The chapter that caused the trouble was called "E=mc2=Mrs Murphy's Horse-power, and it includes the text of a $10 telegram Fuller sent to his friend the sculptor Isamu Noguchi, explaining the theory of relativity in layman's terms. The 12-page essay goes on to ponder the practical significance of Einstein's mass-energy equation.

Relativity is seen as a rationalization of energy accounting, and after introducing his concept of inanimate slaves (later renamed "energy slaves"), Fuller winds up the chapter with a brief statement of his notion of wealth in terms of energy conversion ability, time, and precision.

Fuller's friend the poet Christopher Morley read and admired the draft of the book, and recommended it to his new publisher J .B. Lippincott , who then agreed to publish it.

However, the editor in charge of "Nine Chains" became extremely skeptical when he reached the chapter on Einstein. Fuller then received a letter from Lippincott, saying that, according to a recent magazine article, Einstein had reckoned that only 10 people in the world really understood his theory, and that Fuller's name wasn't on this list. To avoid charges of charlatanry, they had decided after all not to publish his book.

Not surprisingly, after all the hard work and imagination he'd put into "Nine Chains", this news came as yet another disastrous blow to Fuller. When he got over the shock he wrote "almost facetiously" to Lippincott, saying that Einstein was now living in Princeton, and suggesting they send the typescript to him.

Meanwhile Fuller pursued other concerns until, months later, he received a call from a Dr Morris Fishbein, saying that Einstein was coming from Princeton to New York to visit him and that while he was there Einstein would like to meet Fuller and discuss the typescript with him, if he were free.

At Fishbein's house Einstein was surrounded by people by the time Fuller arrived but as soon as they were introduced, Einstein led Fuller to another room so they could talk undisturbed. There on a lamplit table was Fuller's typescript. Einstein told him he had read the book, he approved of the interpretations of his ideas, and he was going to advise Lippincott accordingly. He went on to say that he was amazed at Fuller for finding any practical applications for his ideas.

Needless to say, neither of them imagined what further applications would be provoked a few years later by the grotesque necessities of a world war.

After all the contemptuous treatment by other scientists, engineers and philosophers, and being called a charlatan by his own publisher, Einstein's seal of approval was an immense boost for Fuller, especially since he had led Einstein to consider ramifications of his own ideas which hadn't occurred to him.

Following Einstein's appreciative letter, Lippincott published "Nine Chains" in 1938. The only periodical to give the book a good review was Newsweek, describing it as,

"a 3-ring circus - high-wire acts, blaring bands, clowning and all - with one man as the whole show. This book is at once a guide book and a dream book of the future, and a purge of the past, a debunker of architecture, economics, politics. . ."

Aside from the fact that most of Fuller's interpretations, speculations, and cultural demolitions were at least as far ahead of their time as were his inventions, it may well have been that the journalistic hostility to or avoidance of "Nine Chains" had to do with the politically unpalatable views he expressed with great vehemence about finance capitalism.




Paul Taylor 2006