More rewarding deliberations on the past, present, and future from economist Heilbroner, adapted from lectures he gave last year at the New York Public Library. Before reaching some equivocal conclusions about the shape of things to come, Heilbroner (21st Century Capitalism, 1993, etc.) spends a good deal of time looking backward. In assessing what he calls the ``Distant Past'' (a period from prehistory to the 17th century), he points out that the material outlook of its peoples was marked by expectations of changelessness. By contrast, advances in technology enabled Western societies from ``Yesterday'' (an era lasting from about 1700 through 1950) to anticipate the future with confidence. But ``Today,'' by Heilbroner's account, the impersonal forces that have influenced, even dominated, the recent past- -science, economics, mass political movements--now give the developed world as much cause for alarm as for optimism. Disturbing cases in point range from environmental loss through persistent brushfire belligerencies, the insecurities of a market economy, and nuclear power. In offering an imaginable appraisal of what might be in store for both the have and have-not outposts of the Global Village, Heilbroner speculates that capitalism will take a variety of nationalistic forms. Over the longer run, however, he argues that civilization cannot achieve the humane progress of which it is capable if market-based free enterprise (ceaseless accumulation) remains the ordering principle. But he's unsure whether civic virtue will best be served by centralized or decentralized political organization, and he ends with the slightly gnomic observation that two ``quite opposite extremes'' might offer paths to a better future: ``The first is effective global government; the second is its abolition.'' Still, even though he doesn't provide a bang-up payoff at the close, Heilbroner offers a wealth of dividends along the way. A worldly philosopher's provocative broad-brush perspectives on what the morrow could bring.