VISIONS OF TECHNOLOGY by Richard Rhodes

VISIONS OF TECHNOLOGY

edited by

KIRKUS REVIEW

An anthology of short takes on the century’s progress in invention/technology, selected and presented chronologically by a prize-winning writer who himself has contributed to the history of technology (e.g., Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, 1995). The result is a mixed bag, leaving the reader frustrated (why this and not that) and querulous (where are we headed? what is the point?). Some selections celebrate moments of discovery; others discourse on the meaning and implications of an innovation, making value judgments. But, as he says at the outset, “The deep truth about the debate that fills this book is that it’s a debate among the orthodox. . . . No one, not even the Unabomber, has proposed a return to a Hobbesian garden of the primates.” So science and technology (the distinction blurs) emerge as the inevitable fallout of our enlarged brains. As for the limits, turn of the century writers like Henry Adams voiced fear of the dynamo, Samuel Gompers worried that the new industrial efficiencies were “producing wealth but grinding man”—themes that recur as the century develops. In due course, Rhodes gives us Oppenheimer confessing that scientists “have known sin,” and Newton Minow lamenting TV’s “vast wasteland.” There are also the daring visions and realities of the Pill, the transistor, the laser, and the artificial intelligence pursuits of Herbert Simon and Marvin Minsky. In short, the 20th century is a technological dream—or nightmare, depending on your point of view. A serious omission is medical advances (because Rhodes says they are so well attended). Beginning with the discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953, molecular biology and its applications have become the technological movers and shakers in the late 20th century—and of the century to come. In the end, Rhodes has given us a collection of trees (with some species missing). Pity, because with a little more effort and more than cursory commentary he could have created pathways leading to a forest of ideas.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-684-83903-2
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1999




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