THE POWER OF THE MACHINE by R.A. Buchanan

THE POWER OF THE MACHINE

The Impact of Technology from 1700 to the Present Day
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 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. (Forty b&w photos, 13 line illustrations.)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-670-83656-7
Page count: 344pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1992