New book: What The Rich Don’t Tell The Poor

“I’d never heard of this bloody place Guatemala until I was in my 79th year” – Winston Churchill

If you don’t know much about Guatemala, then you’re not alone. But if you’d like to find out more about this country of extraordinary beauty and tragedy, then I invite you have a look at my new book What The Rich Don’t Tell The Poor: Conversations With Guatemalan Oligarchs.

You probably signed up to this blog because of your interest in the topics of my previous books, like empathy, long-term thinking or seizing the day. But long before I began writing on those issues, I was doing academic research on Guatemalan politics. Back in the early 2000s, I spent seven years interviewing members of the country’s economic elite or ‘oligarchy’ to discover how they think about poverty, violence, race and power, and how they have maintained their privileges in the face of change. What The Rich Don’t Tell The Poor reveals all that I learned, with the oligarchs speaking candidly in their own words.

We hear about Russian oligarchs and other superwealthy business elites in the media every day. But how much do we really know about them? Who are they behind a bland quote in the Wall Street Journal? My hope is that this book isn’t just revealing about Guatemala’s oligarchs, but offers insights into understanding and challenging elite power everywhere.

The book has an unusual publication history. It was originally written in 2006 – based on research in my PhD thesis – and I’ve now published it for the first time in its original version. As I write in a new 2022 Preface, although much has changed in Guatemala in the intervening years, it is staggering just how much has stayed the same. The oligarchs remain a formidable and largely unchallenged force.

Writing this book was actually my introduction to the topic of empathy – the art of stepping into the shoes of other people and looking at the world through their eyes – which I subsequently wrote about in several other books. Speaking to the oligarchs forced me to try to see the world from the perspective of people whose views and actions I deeply disagreed with, from their racism with respect to Guatemala’s Indigenous Mayan population to their support for paramilitary death squads in the long civil war. It was confronting. But also an extraordinary learning experience.

You can find out more about the book and get yourself a copy at my website and also read a sample here.

I would also hugely appreciate if you were able to spread word about the book on social media, and share details of it with friends, activists, scholars, journalists and policymakers with an interest in politics and economic power in Latin America and beyond.

Thanks for all your support.


PS. And if you’re wondering about the cover photo, it’s by the renowned Guatemalan photographer Daniel Hernández-Salazar and is called ‘Para que todos lo sepan’ (‘So That All Shall Know’). It depicts an angel created from two negatives: a young mestizo man and the shoulder blades of a murder victim from Guatemala’s civil war, found in a clandestine grave.

What The Rich Don't Tell The Poor book cover.

It’s time to invent the ‘Buy Later’ button!

My adventures with my new book The Good Ancestor continue apace.

The US edition has just been been released (please support your local bookstore!) and there will be editions coming out soon in Dutch, Chinese and other languages.

If you haven’t yet read the book, you can get a taste of it in this 7-minute TED talk I did for their recent Countdown event on the climate crisis (it received over half a million views in its first 48 hours). From the same event I can really recommend the talks by David Lammy, Severn Cullis-Suzuki and Andri Snaer Magnason.

If you want a deeper dive into the book, the Long Now Foundation has produced a fantastic cinematic version of a 45-minute talk I did for them, full of photos and video footage, and followed by Q&A with long-term gurus Stewart Brand and Kevin Kelly.

There are clearly a lot of people out there intrigued by how to be a good ancestor: I’ve found myself giving talks about the book to government ministers, direct action climate campaigners, activist school kids, radical architects, staff at Google and much more.

And I love what can come out these events. In one of them I was speaking about how we need to invent a Buy Later Button to replace the ultra-short-term Buy Now Button. This new button would offer a dropdown menu where you can buy the item immediately, but also have options to buy in week, buy in a month, buy in a year or borrow from a friend. So if you click ‘buy in a year’ you would get an email in a year asking if you really want to buy that third yoga mat.

Anyway, I then discover that someone at the talk has picked up on the idea and created a website called, with the strapline ‘Long Term Thinking, Slow Down Shopping’. Clever. They are now in the process of creating the app to do the job of the Buy Later Button.

I’ve also had the privilege of working with many inspiring and creative people, amongst them a group of cartoonists from magazines such as The New Yorker and Esquire. In a project with the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, the cartoonists read The Good Ancestor and created original cartoons in response to its themes. Below is one of my favourites (you can view the whole collection here).

And just to finish, if you don’t know it, let me introduce you to one of the most powerful poems I’ve encountered on being a good ancestor: Hieroglypic Stairway by Drew Dellinger. Listen to him read it here. And here is an excerpt to mull over:

it’s 3:23 in the morning

and I can’t sleep

because my great great grandchildren

ask me in dreams

what did you do while the earth was unravelling?

Six Ways to Think Long Term (new book out today!)

So here it is, after more than three years of toil. My new book, The Good Ancestor: How to Think Long Term in a Short-Term World, is published today.

The book explores six different ways we can learn to think long term and overcome the pathological short-termism of the modern world, and celebrates the ‘time rebels’ who are reinventing democracy, economics and culture to create a better tomorrow. Ultimately it is an attempt to answer what I consider the most urgent question of our times as we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis: How can we be good ancestors?

You can get yourself a copy from places including Hive, Amazon and Waterstones (20% discount code: ANCESTOR20).

I’ve launched a new microsite which contains graphics, data and other goodies from the book. There are plenty of free online events you can join too.

Today I’m also launching a new animation based on the book called The Marshmallow and the Acorn. You may have already seen my other animation, The Legacies We Leave. I would hugely appreciate if you could share whichever video resonates most with you.

Please let me know what you think of the book, and thank you for all your support!

Best wishes, Roman

“This is the book our children’s children will thank us for reading.” The Edge, U2

“Beautiful to read, heartfelt and persuasive, The Good Ancestor is one of those landmark books with the power to shift a mindset.” Isabella Tree, author of Wilding

How Can We Be Good Ancestors? New video and new book!

WH Allen logo. Penguin Books logo.

Out now

“This is the book our children’s children will thank us for reading.”
The Edge, U2
“Beautiful to read, heartfelt and persuasive. One of those landmark books with the power to shift a mindset.”
Isabella Tree, author of Wilding

Black and white photo of Roman Krznaric by Kate Raworth.Roman Krznaric’s new book, The Good Ancestor: How to Think Long Term in a Short-Term World, explores six ways we can expand our time horizons to confront the great long-term challenges of our age, from the climate crisis to threats from new technologies and the next pandemic coming our way. Do we have what it takes to become the good ancestors that future generations deserve?

It’s been more than a year since my last blogpost – but I can explain my absence…I’ve been finalising my latest book, The Good Ancestor: How to Think Long Term in a Short-Term World, which will be published in the UK on July 16 by Penguin Random House.

The book has a simple question at its heart: How can we be good ancestors? It explores how we can overcome the frenetic short-termism of the modern world and become long-term ‘cathedral thinkers’, so we can tackle the challenges of our age, from the climate crisis to threats from AI and the next pandemic on the horizon.

To give you a taste of the book, today I’m launching a new animated video based on its ideas called The Legacies We Leave (created by the brilliant Tom Lee at

Please do share the video, especially with organisations and individuals (maybe your local MP!) who could do with a healthy dose of long-term thinking.

If you’d like to pre-order the book, you can do so from outlets including Hive, Amazon and Waterstones (20% discount code: ANCESTOR20).

Also look out for upcoming speaking events I’ll be doing. These include a free online event with Salon London on July 23 where I’ll be in conversation about the book with author of Doughnut Economics Kate Raworth and musician Brian Eno.

Hope to see you at one of the events!

Best wishes, Roman

Have We Colonised The Future?

‘We treat the future like a distant colonial outpost devoid of people, where we can freely dump ecological degradation, technological risk, nuclear waste and public debt.’

This is a quote from an article I’ve just published on the BBC Futures website called Why We Need To Reinvent Democracy for the Long-Term.

I’d hugely appreciate if you had a chance to read it, share it, and post any thoughts you have in the comments section below. It contains some of the ideas I’ve been developing for a new book I’m writing on the power of long-term thinking (which explains why I haven’t written a blog post for eight months). At the centre of the book is a simple – yet I believe vital – question: How can we be good ancestors?

For those of you who subscribed to this blog due an interest in the subject of empathy, the book explores the great challenge of how we can empathise with future generations. It’s a tough one – any answers, please let me know!

The Empathy Museum has a new podcast!


Big news from the Empathy Museum – we’ve made a podcast!

You might know that a couple of years ago I was involved in founding the Empathy Museum, an international travelling arts project that has so far appeared in Brazil, Australia, the UK, the US, Belgium and even Siberia (watch our intro video here).

Now, for the first time, the Empathy Museum is coming directly to you! Every week over the next year we’ll be releasing one of the stories we’ve gathered for our hit exhibit A Mile in My Shoes. So far we’ve heard from Bilal – a top amateur boxer seeking asylum in the UK, Sian – a lifesaver on the Thames, Saige – a sexual healer from Melbourne, and Gary – a prisoner-turned-artist from London.

You can listen and subscribe to A Mile in My Shoes on Acast and iTunes.

We recommend downloading to your phone, slipping on some headphones and taking a stroll while listening. If you like what you hear, please do share the podcast with others, or leave a quick review on iTunes – it really helps us get noticed by their (not very empathic) algorithms.

Huge thanks are due to the Empathy Museum’s brilliant director Clare Patey and her team. Thanks also to Loftus Media for producing the podcast, The Space for funding it, and all our fabulous audio producers who’ve taken such care collecting the stories.

Where we’ve been recently

Last month we set up shop for ten days in Worcester city centre, in collaboration with the locally based Company of Others. We traded shoes with nearly a thousand visitors and collected seventeen new stories from the people of Worcestershire. Here we are on the local news!

We also joined in with Arrival – the Mayor of London’s celebration of the Windrush generation at City Hall. We were particularly delighted to share the story and shoes of Allan Wilmot – a Jamaican who came to England after fighting in WWII and was giving a talk at the event.

And elsewhere, we brought our collection of NHS stories to the NHS Confederation annual conference and exhibition in Manchester and Glasgow – part of our ongoing collaboration with The Health Foundation.

The Mayor of Worcester, Jabba Riaz, walking a mile in the shoes of Tristan, a local dairy farmer whose story we collected during our time in the city. Photo: Andy Burton.

Where to find us next

In September we’re travelling to Cumbria for Lakes Alive – a free festival of art, performance, sculpture and workshops.  Come and find some new shoes and walk a mile up and down the Lake District hills (we’ll be sure to bring our collection of walking boots!)
7 – 9 September, Lake District, Kendal
Find out more

Later in September we’re bringing a sprinkling of empathy to freshers’ week at the University of Sussex, when our shoebox lands at the university’s Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts. If you’re a student there or not, come say hello!
14 – 23 September, University of Sussex, BN1 9RA
Find out more

Then this autumn we’re part of National Theatre of Scotland’s Futureproof festival, celebrating the country’s Year of Young People.  We’ve been collecting new stories and shoes from young people around Moray, and we’ll be sharing them from our shoebox in Forres and Elgin.
29 September – 10 October, Scotland
Find out more

…And finally, in October we’ll be shipping our shoes across the Atlantic for the Future of Storytelling summit in New York, to explore how storytelling is changing in the digital age.
3 – 4 October, Snug Harbour Cultural Center and Botanical Garden, NYC
Find out more

If you’d like to keep up with all the Empathy Museum news, please subscribe here for occasional updates.

I hope you have a wonderful summer. I’ll be busy working on a new book on the art of long-term thinking, trying to walk in the shoes of future generations (let me know below if you’ve got any good book, film or other recommendations…).

Nine Digital Postcards to Change Your Life

Dear Friends

To celebrate the launch today of the paperback edition of Carpe Diem Regained, I’m releasing a series of nine unique digital postcards over at the book’s website,

Each postcard carries an inspiring seize-the-day quote from the likes of Maya Angelou, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Albert Camus.

With a simple click the postcards can be shared on social media with friends, family and followers. I’d be delighted if you jumped over to the site and shared one that resonates with you.


And if you haven’t read the book, perhaps you’ll be enticed by the Guardian’s George Monbiot, who described it as ‘Brilliant. One of those rare books that forces you to ask what the hell you’re doing with your life.’


Thanks so much for your support. Roman

The Return of the City State (and the Slow Death of Nation States)

Living it up in 14th century Siena – Lorenzetti’s Allegory of Good and Bad Government.

After a turbulent 2017 full of Trump’s tantrums and Britain’s shambolic lurch towards Brexit, what might 2018 bring us? In this article written for Wired magazine’s annual publication, The Wired World in 2018,  I argue that we may well see the return of the Renaissance city state…


The 279 US city mayors who pledged to support the Paris Agreement on climate change in June 2017 are the latest sign of a trend that will crystallise in 2018: the growing prominence and autonomy of cities around the world, on a scale not seen since the age of Renaissance city-states such as Florence or Venice.

An increasing proportion of the world’s population is living in megacities, from the 12-million-population Greater Sao Paulo to the Taiheiyō Belt megalopolis in Japan, which is home to more than 80 million people. The United Nations predicts that by 2030 there will be 41 megacity clusters containing two-thirds of the world’s population.

These cities, which are the economic powerhouses of the countries in which they exist, are becoming political powerhouses too. They’ve been organising into interdependent networks, such as the Global Parliament of Mayors, the C40 global network of cities committed to acting on climate change, and the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities. These networks have accumulated enough organisational experience and influence to make a significant mark in 2018 in international arenas such as COP24, the UN Climate Change Conference to be held in Poland in December 2018.

We may also see new initiatives of what the international-relations expert Parag Khanna calls “diplomacity”, where cities make independent trade agreements with one another, much like the cities of the Hanseatic League did in northern Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Megacities around the world. From Parag Khanna’s book Connectography.

The growing autonomy and influence of cities has risen due to several factors. One is the global trend towards devolution. In England and Wales, for instance, there were no directly elected mayors at the start of the millennium. Now there are 23 and their electoral contests are attracting an increasing number of high-profile candidates.

A second trend is that cities are leading tech innovation, such as the smart-bus network to be introduced in the Chinese smart city of Zhuzhou in 2018. They are also at the forefront of energy transitions from fossil fuels to renewables. For example, the Indian government has created a masterplan for establishing 50 solar cities and the state of Chhattisgarh is due to make huge investments in local solar generation in 2018 as part of its Development in Solar Cities Programme.

A final, overarching trend is a growing recognition that nation-states are – compared with cities – unfit for modern challenges. They have failed to deal effectively with issues arising from migration, climate change, wealth inequality and terrorism. This failure partly explains the declining faith in traditional political parties in many countries and in the value of democratic government itself. But it is also behind the rise of cities, which are much more effective at pragmatic problem-solving on issues ranging from flood management to dealing with increasing numbers of refugees.

It’s worth remembering that nation-states are a new historical invention and have only been the dominant form of political organisation for the past two centuries. Cities, in contrast, are the greatest and most enduring social technology ever invented by humankind. That is why cities such as Istanbul have lasted thousands of years, while empires and nations have risen and fallen around them.

It is true that nations will not disappear quickly or completely, but we may remember 2018 as the year of the return of the Renaissance city-state. Get ready for bold initiatives from cities and their mayors in areas such as global warming, while national political parties bicker with each other and intergovernmental conferences remain locked in stalemate. The ancient ideal of the polis is back.

Roman Krznaric is a social philosopher. His latest book is Carpe Diem Regained.

The article originally appeared in The Wired World in 2018

The World’s First Digital “Death Dice”

Death is going digital!

In my new book Carpe Diem Regained, I describe six different ways of thinking about death that can inspire the art of living – ranging from ‘live each day as if it were for the second time’ to ‘live as if you’ve got six months left’.

As a little taster, I’ve just written about them in a new article at YES! Magazine. Embedded in the article (and in this post) you will also find the world’s first Digital Death Dice – featuring each of the six approaches – which you can “roll” online. Think of it as a modern version of Renaissance memento mori, like the skulls people used to keep on their desks as a reminder that death could take them at any moment.

Have a go with the dice, share it with a friend, and get into the habit of taking a daily Death Pause – where you spend a few minutes each day thinking about your mortality.

In other book news:

  • Forbes Magazine just chose the US edition as one of the “13 Best Books for Summer 2017”. I can’t say that I regularly read this bible of American capitalism, but I was pleased to be on a list with the great sci fi writer China Miéville and his book October, a history of the Russian revolution
  • BBC Culture wrote a really great review of the book
  • This Amazon review has my favourite line so far: “Reading this book gave me a much needed kick up the @ss.” I challenge you to match this in a review of your own!

That’s all for now. Time to Seize the Summer!



The Most Frightening Graph You’ll See This Year


Years before embarking on a career writing what might be broadly called ‘popular philosophy’ books, I had another career as a political scientist. I still enjoy flicking through the academic journals in my old field. When doing so recently I came across what ranks as one of the most startling – indeed frightening – graphs I’ve seen in years. It appears in the July 2016 issue of the respected Journal of Democracy.

The graph (see above) shows that around 75% of today’s US citizens who were born in the 1930s believe it is essential to live in a democracy, whereas for those born in the 1980s the figure plummets to around 30%. This generational decline is evident in Europe too, although it’s not quite as steep.

Pretty scary, huh? It looks like democratic values are distinctly out of fashion with millennials.

It fits a trend, of course: the growing disillusion with democracy-as-we-know-it is evident in the rise of anti-system, far-right politicians like Trump and Le Pen, as well as the declining trust in government and traditional political parties.

So what is to be done? How can democracy as a system of government be saved from this impending failure?

One solution can be found – you guessed it – in the ancient philosophy of carpe diem. Most people associate it with an individual philosophy of everyday life. But seizing the day can also happen on a collective scale to bring about social and political change.

It’s an idea I explore in my new micro essay CAN ANCIENT PHILOSOPHY SAVE DEMOCRACY?

Do check it out and let me know what you think. The essay is based on my book Carpe Diem Regained (now also available as an audio book).

And before I forget, I’ll be giving a Temple Talk in London on the evening of Sunday June 11 – it will be my last talk in the big smoke for some months, so do come along if you can.

Best wishes