TECHNOLOGY IN AMERICA: A History of Individuals and Ideas by

TECHNOLOGY IN AMERICA: A History of Individuals and Ideas

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The development of American technology, specifically and advantageously, in 19 chapters by 19 authorities (plus editor Pursell's introduction). This is a volume in a joint MIT Press/Voice of America series, and thus an instrument of popular education: each dear, succinct, non-technical chapter treats an individual and a concept. But since the definition of technology is so broad as to include Gifford Pinchot and the conservation movement, on the one hand (re ""scientific forest management"" for ""commodity production""), and Keaton and Chaplin and silent films, on the other (one of the fustier pieces, alas), we do not simply toe the line from McCormick to Edison to Ford. This is an education in what technology is--and what, besides inventiveness, made American technology the world-model. Jefferson, we're reminded, was more than inquisitive--he opposed patent monopolies; Thomas P. Jones, of Philadelphia's Franklin Institute, initiated popular science education--to teach workingmen first principles (and discredit ""mechanical chimeras""); ""power progressive"" Morris L. Cooke sparked the New Deal's Rural Electrification Administration: ""giant power"" for the people. Because the authors are the authorities, moreover, we get the benefit of the best current thinking--Merritt Roe Smith's reassessment of Eli Whitney, for example (not the developer of interchangeable parts--more, of regimented labor), adapted from his prize-winning history of the Harpers Ferry Armory. The finest pieces here, however, are on stock subjects: James J. Flink wraps up the ""automobility"" of America and the real (vs. mythical) contribution of Henry Ford in twelve pages that vie, for idea-content, with Nevins and Hill's three volumes ; Lawrence Badash traces nuclear energy from Aristotle--via his focal figure, Enrico Fermi--to today's pros and cons with the celerity that, he notes, we advanced from Rutherford's 1933 ""moonshine"" to the Bomb and Atoms for Peace. And the one reflective piece (also, the one reprint) is John William Ward's sterling essay on the elusive, ubiquitous Lindbergh--lone eagle or man-with-machine? (""Americans still celebrate both."") A dual purpose volume, at the least: superior to most standard reference sources for the individual roles, fresh and suggestive as to what American technology is all about.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1981
Publisher: MIT Press