THE EXISTENTIAL PLEASURE OF ENGINEERING by Samuel C. Florman

THE EXISTENTIAL PLEASURE OF ENGINEERING

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Florman, a construction engineer, got sick of the bad press his profession has been getting and decided to do something about it. The result is sometimes maddening, sometimes delightful, but certainly not easy to ignore. Engineering and existentialism get in there all right, but the real subject is technology and then Luddites--Homo faber and his recently fashionable critics. First Florman takes on Dubos, Reich, and Roszak, whom he finds guilty of sloppy and dogmatic thinking--those modish jeremiads about the ""anonymity"" of technology are a suspiciously convenient rhetorial technique for making the broadest possible accusations with the fewest possible specifics. He finds in the antitechnologists a distressing elitism and arrogant pseudo-objectifying of subjective values, leading to their unthinking claim that the perfectly legitimate preferences and goals of the great unwashed consumer are nothing but a pitiable symptom of technocratic manipulation. Go back to Homer--as Florman does with spirit and considerable literary feeling--and you'll find people taking unabashed, open-hearted pleasure in things--tools, furniture, structures. It's time for technologists--especially engineers--to stop letting themselves be pigeonholed as soulless dullards and joyously proclaim their identity as craftsmen: builders and makers, heirs to all human ambition and curiosity. One isn't sure how accurately the craft rubric can apply to an age in which a unified mental grasp of any completed task is available to proportionally fewer and fewer people. As for Florman's reminder that all tastes are equal, it is refreshing good sense but ignores the existence of an extremely well-paid profession dedicated to influencing public and private preferences--with the gravest technological implications. Still, there's no sense faulting Florman for not writing a grand expose of industrial organization and PR techniques. He has a lot of reasonable things to say--even if in a partial political vacuum-and he says them with feisty intelligence.

Pub Date: Oct. 8th, 1975
Publisher: St. Martin's