by Kirkpatrick Sale ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 1, 1995
A rather odd book, sketching the history of a 19th-century revolt against industrial machinery and seeking to find in it some lessons for today. Although efforts by workers to smash machinery that they suspected might rob them of jobs have been traced as far back as 1675, and similar occurrences took place in the United States in the 1820s and '30s, the 15-month period of Luddite activity from 1811 to early 1813 (which included ""pseudonymous letters, nighttime raids, quasi-military operations...and a campaign to instigate fear"") has attracted the most attention from historians -- more than may seem warranted. Protests in the name of a nonexistent General Ned Ludd broke out mainly in the English midlands, causing some Å’100,000 worth of damage and great trepidation in the upper classes, but the unrest was effectively ended by the execution of 14 ringleaders in January 1813. The conditions that provoked Luddite actions were appalling, and indeed Charlotte Bronte described these events as ""a sort of moral earthquake,"" but the contemporary relevance Sale (The Conquest of Paradise, 1990, etc.) sees in them remains doubtful. The last third of the book is devoted to the horrors of current technology, ranging from the joblessness it produces (""the notion that new technology somehow creates new jobs and increased wealth is hogwash""); to a list of grievances and disasters (Chernobyl, the Exxon Valdez, the fact that ""computers are always 'down' when you need them,"" etc.); to the creation of ""disposable jobs."" Sale is a little coy about what he would do about all this, quoting proponents of ""the dismantling of nuclear, chemical, biogenetic, electromagnetic, television and computer technologies""; praising a farmer who does his work with horses and writes with a pencil, in daytime, without electric light; and finding an ideal in old Amish communities and in Indian tribes. The author's anger against the excesses of our industrial civilization is clear enough, but his remedies are unpersuasive.
Pub Date: May 1, 1995
Page Count: 320
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995
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