Books by Thomas P. Hughes

Released: Aug. 19, 1998

The odd and elusive story of how large-scale technological projects of the post-WWII era have created new, postmodern methods of management and engineering. Size matters for Hughes (History and Sociology of Science/Univ. of Pennsylvania), the author of numerous works on the history of technology. Innovation is no longer the product of the lone inventor but of systems of technology combining disparate centers of funding, research, and production. What these systems require is management, the coordinating of their various parts. The genesis of such "systems management" lies in the Cold War, when the "military-industrial-university complex" made significant breakthroughs in computer and aerospace technology through work on air defense and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Convinced of the efficacy of this systems approach to managing all complexity, engineers turned their attention to managing civil problems such as urban decay, and, says Hughes, they failed miserably. Political interests and the checks and balances of government do not lend themselves easily to centralized planning and management. Yet systems management learned to incorporate and accommodate social demands for accountability and participation. Hughes examines in great detail how Boston's Central Artery/Tunnel Project overcame not only technical but also social challenges. Out of this experience and the creation of ARPANET, the military forerunner to the Internet, came a systems management wed not to the certainties of mathematical models but to the vagaries of contingency, to open-endedness, and to change. Hughes's case-study approach demands the reader make his or her own connections; he spells out and summarizes very little. He is often ambiguous, condemning the "anti-science" bias of the '60s but praising the role of the '60s in bringing a new adaptability to systems management. He remains convinced, however, of the innate goodness of huge technological systems and only briefly engages views to the contrary. A complex book, but the attentive reader will be able to manage it. (b&w photos, not seen) Read full book review >
Released: April 28, 1989

A major work in American history and sociology, depicting a nation shaped not by politics or economics, but by systems of technology. Hughes (History & Sociology of Science/U. of Penn.) demonstrates changes in the ways science has been managed and technology delivered since the late 19th century, when technological innovation moved out of the hands of independent inventors—Edison, Sperry, Tesla, etc.—into the industrial laboratories of the corporations that grew around their work: invention displaced by R & D. With research directed by those with an investment in existing technologies, the emphasis shifted from the creation of new systems to refinements in existing systems. The new systems tapped academia, whose approach through theory superseded the inventor's empiricism; WW I brought the military into the equation, giving us the "military-industrial complex." Hughes shows us conscious system-builders, represented by Frederick Taylor, "father of scientific management," and Henry Ford; Lenin applied their principles to achieve collectivization, while the Weimar Republic did so to prevent it. With Samuel Insull's midwestern power distribution grid, the T.V.A., and finally the Manhattan Project, Hughes demonstrates the increasing size and power of systems of technology. Not a new vision: Hughes arrives, finally, at Mumford's "megamachine" and Ellul's "technicized" society. But, nonetheless, this is an important discussion of the motive force of technology, a corollary to Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. Read full book review >