THE POWER OF THE MACHINE: The Impact of Technology from 1700 to the Present Day by R.A. Buchanan

THE POWER OF THE MACHINE: The Impact of Technology from 1700 to the Present Day

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A basic introduction to how technology has transformed human society and the earth. ""Technology is the study of human techniques for making and doing things,"" opens Buchanan (History of Technology/Univ. of Bath), setting the flat, factual tone for what is to follow. His main contention, of no originality, is that the ""technological revolution"" is a process, still accelerating, that has allowed Western civilization to dominate the world. The West succeeded where other advanced cultures (Islamic, Chinese, etc.) failed because only in Europe and America did first-rate inventors (or adapters, since Buchanan points out that many inventions--gunpowder, compass--came from China) labor in a society with the material means to harness and spread their wares. Buchanan provides a suitable history of technology, covering several basic areas: transportation; communication; infrastructures (bridges, roads, etc.); energy production (he sees a natural evolution from the steam engine to nuclear power plants, although he acknowledges the latter's problems); and energy application (from agriculture to textiles). Slightly more colorful, but still mostly by-the-numbers, is his discussion of technology and politics; Buchanan notes that free societies (England, America) provide the best climate for invention and that new technology usually serves the interests of the state. Buchanan worries about technological ""dilemmas""--overpopulation, nuclear war, pollution--but believes that ""by asserting control and direction,"" all will be well. In a last chapter clumsy with enthusiasm, he declares that the future of technology lies in the stars (""it is the destiny of mankind to explore the universe"")--providing, of course, that we ""learn to select the valid from the invalid."" A decent history, but about as exciting as watching a turbine do its thing.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1993
Page count: 344pp
Publisher: Viking