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From the books of H.G. Wells to the press releases of NASA, we are awash in cliched claims about high technology's ability to change the course of history. Now, in The Shock of the Old, David Edgerton offers a startling new and fresh way of thinking about the history of technology, radically revising our ideas about the interaction of technology and society in the past and From the books of H.G. Wells to the press releases of NASA, we are awash in cliched claims about high technology's ability to change the course of history. Now, in The Shock of the Old, David Edgerton offers a startling new and fresh way of thinking about the history of technology, radically revising our ideas about the interaction of technology and society in the past and in the present. He challenges us to view the history of technology in terms of what everyday people have actually used-and continue to use-rather than just sophisticated inventions. Indeed, many highly touted technologies, from the V-2 rocket to the Concorde jet, have been costly failures, while many mundane discoveries, like corrugated iron, become hugely important around the world. Edgerton reassesses the significance of such acclaimed inventions as the Pill and information technology, and underscores the continued importance of unheralded technology, debunking many notions about the implications of the "information age." A provocative history, The Shock of the Old provides an entirely new way of looking historically at the relationship between invention and innovation.


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From the books of H.G. Wells to the press releases of NASA, we are awash in cliched claims about high technology's ability to change the course of history. Now, in The Shock of the Old, David Edgerton offers a startling new and fresh way of thinking about the history of technology, radically revising our ideas about the interaction of technology and society in the past and From the books of H.G. Wells to the press releases of NASA, we are awash in cliched claims about high technology's ability to change the course of history. Now, in The Shock of the Old, David Edgerton offers a startling new and fresh way of thinking about the history of technology, radically revising our ideas about the interaction of technology and society in the past and in the present. He challenges us to view the history of technology in terms of what everyday people have actually used-and continue to use-rather than just sophisticated inventions. Indeed, many highly touted technologies, from the V-2 rocket to the Concorde jet, have been costly failures, while many mundane discoveries, like corrugated iron, become hugely important around the world. Edgerton reassesses the significance of such acclaimed inventions as the Pill and information technology, and underscores the continued importance of unheralded technology, debunking many notions about the implications of the "information age." A provocative history, The Shock of the Old provides an entirely new way of looking historically at the relationship between invention and innovation.

30 review for The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History Since 1900

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    a history of technology in the 20th century, full of gems like the German army having more horses and yet advanced into Russia in 1941 even more slowly than Napoleon in 1812. the arguement her basically is that ubiquity of use equals importance hence the washing machine is way more important than the moon landings, an opinion I was convinced of through doing handwashing ( powered by a good glas of barleywine sold to me by a sweet middle aged woman in a booth who had the number and placement of te a history of technology in the 20th century, full of gems like the German army having more horses and yet advanced into Russia in 1941 even more slowly than Napoleon in 1812. the arguement her basically is that ubiquity of use equals importance hence the washing machine is way more important than the moon landings, an opinion I was convinced of through doing handwashing ( powered by a good glas of barleywine sold to me by a sweet middle aged woman in a booth who had the number and placement of teeth you might expected to find in a woman dealing with barleywine drinkers on a regular basis, as a bonus she'd pop her head out of her booth and correct my mispronunciations with a little smile while I was a student in Russia in 1995/6. Eventually I found out that my landlady had a washing machine, she said that she thought I was enjoying washing clothes by hand so much that she felt it churlish to offer me mechanical assistance. I was not amused.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Courtney Stoker

    The Shock of the Old makes you think. I read it in a history of technology course, and many of my classmates were quick to dismiss it. History majors most of them, they were put off by Edgerton's anti-American politics. I found it a little refreshing to see a history book that not only focused on the everyday, practical use of technologies (as opposed to focusing mainly on European-American military innovations like computers and bombs) and wasn't afraid to get political. All history books have The Shock of the Old makes you think. I read it in a history of technology course, and many of my classmates were quick to dismiss it. History majors most of them, they were put off by Edgerton's anti-American politics. I found it a little refreshing to see a history book that not only focused on the everyday, practical use of technologies (as opposed to focusing mainly on European-American military innovations like computers and bombs) and wasn't afraid to get political. All history books have an underlying politics, so it's nice to read a book that isn't shy about admitting that. Edgerton's premise is interesting, his writing is engaging and witty, and the book is fairly well-argued.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Alex Sarll

    "Much of what is written on the history of technology is for boys of all ages. This book is a history for grown-ups of all ages." As that opening sentence indicates, this is a book that wants to show you Everything You Know Is Wrong - and as often as not, it succeeds. The Nazi invasion of Russia used more horses than Napoleon's had. A battleship which predated the Second World War also fought in the First Gulf War - and this for the Americans, too. The humble machete only came into its own as an "Much of what is written on the history of technology is for boys of all ages. This book is a history for grown-ups of all ages." As that opening sentence indicates, this is a book that wants to show you Everything You Know Is Wrong - and as often as not, it succeeds. The Nazi invasion of Russia used more horses than Napoleon's had. A battleship which predated the Second World War also fought in the First Gulf War - and this for the Americans, too. The humble machete only came into its own as an instrument of mass murder in the 1990s. And so forth. The basic thesis - that old technologies survive longer than we think, that major change often follows improvements and efficiency rather than first innovation, that futurist prophecies tend to look daft in hindsight - is compelling. However - I'm not sure said thesis is as radical as Edgerton suggests. One of the things I kept thinking as I read this is, anyone writing science fiction needs to read this book. But since at least Star Wars, science fiction has learned many of these lessons - it's rare now to see a gleaming future without grubby survivals of the present. Factual predictions, too, tend to focus on increasing efficiency of eg smartphones, rather than how New Technology X will abolish war, want and work, because we've all seen that grand prophecy given the lie too many times (and we're still waiting on our jetpacks). Undoubtedly there is a lot of good stuff here, I just feel it's cheapened by exaggeration and/or poor phrasing - as when Edgerton apparently suggests by omission that not a single Soviet soldier was killed by an aircraft in the Second World War. And sometimes, as in the suggestion that the Manhattan Project wasn't really that big a deal, you even sense that he's realised himself he's gone too far, as a whole section quickly runs out of steam.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    The perspective in this book is novel and convincing. Edgerton argues that the history of technology is the history of what technologies people actually use, and how they use them - not (or not just) the history of whiz-bang inventions. There is plenty of interesting historical analysis in here, and lots of unusually rendered examples. Sometimes the writing is a little scattered and plodding, which is my only reason for giving the book 4 instead of 5 stars.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Masatoshi Nishimura

    I like books written by technological determinists in general. This was the most informative one so far on the topic of history of technology. Here and there, he does come off cynical. That is he focuses more on debunking the popular thinking than proposing his grand idea. But after reading it, you will surely gain finer eyes in analyzing how our world operates. I learned bunch of new terminologies from tech-nationalism to innovation-centric view. He says most engineers are not inventors, most sc I like books written by technological determinists in general. This was the most informative one so far on the topic of history of technology. Here and there, he does come off cynical. That is he focuses more on debunking the popular thinking than proposing his grand idea. But after reading it, you will surely gain finer eyes in analyzing how our world operates. I learned bunch of new terminologies from tech-nationalism to innovation-centric view. He says most engineers are not inventors, most scientists are not researchers, and universities are catching up with technologies instead of creating it. Well, I don't think it's that straightforward as he proposes. For example, deep learning algorithm that enabled AI to have machine translation and read images purely comes from the university effort. I wish he clarified more of his definition of the creation. He also says an interesting point on ideologies (written below). He says technological determinism in the west died in 1960s. His analysis resonates with that of Paypal founder Peter Thiel (so it's not only this cynical professor who is blind from the real technology is saying this). I only wish he elaborated his point more as I'm not sure he was planning on delivering his conclusion in just this one single paragraph. "The socialist and communist movements had been deeply committed to some kind of economic or technological determinism - this was a standard official interpretation of Marxism in the first two-thirds of the twentieth century. It suggested the military might followed from technological might. Thus, for Stalin, economic and technological development was a matter of military necessity... But in the 1960s, the Western Marxists too turned decisively away from ‘economism’ and indeed technological determinism, to emphasize political action, culture, ideology."

  6. 5 out of 5

    Oscar Castanedo

    Good explanations on why tech advancement in this age is not particularly faster when compared to other phases of human history. On the negative side, there are parts of the book that overindulge in data regurgitation. Some concepts could have been explained using fewer data points.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Shane

    Edgerton provides an excellent thought exercise. Reconsider the way you think about progress, change, technology, and the way that societies evolve. The central thesis seems to be there is a lot of inaccurate or deceptive hype about the way technology is used over time and the way techn does (not) re-shape society. Edgerton contends that old technologies continue to dominate in terms of volume, relevance, and usefulness long after most people (including elites) think they do. Old social power st Edgerton provides an excellent thought exercise. Reconsider the way you think about progress, change, technology, and the way that societies evolve. The central thesis seems to be there is a lot of inaccurate or deceptive hype about the way technology is used over time and the way techn does (not) re-shape society. Edgerton contends that old technologies continue to dominate in terms of volume, relevance, and usefulness long after most people (including elites) think they do. Old social power structures are equally resilient and relevant long after many believe that cultural and technological progress has rendered them obsolete. While I don't agree with several of Edgerton's examples and find the section on global research simplistic - the overall argument deserves to be a touchstone for any discussion of technological and societal change.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Marc

    Brilliant, provocative book about the history of technology, with many surprising insights. The central these is: in historiography, we focus too much on discoveries, new technology and innovation. In fact, old technologies in particular always were decisive, in wars and in everyday situations. This is an "eye-opener", certainly, but also with the classical one-sidedness associated with this genre; Edgerton also exaggerates in the other direction, because every old technology must have been inve Brilliant, provocative book about the history of technology, with many surprising insights. The central these is: in historiography, we focus too much on discoveries, new technology and innovation. In fact, old technologies in particular always were decisive, in wars and in everyday situations. This is an "eye-opener", certainly, but also with the classical one-sidedness associated with this genre; Edgerton also exaggerates in the other direction, because every old technology must have been invented once, isn't it?

  9. 5 out of 5

    Pete

    The Shock of the Old : Technology and Global History Since 1900 (2007) by David Edgerton is a fascinating book about how technology is actually used. The book carefully looks at how many technologies, like horses peaked well after their replacements were also in service. Edgerton is a professor of the History of Science at Imperial College. He knows his subject deeply and brings up many fascinating facts throughout the book and his thesis, that we focus on inventions rather than use to our detrim The Shock of the Old : Technology and Global History Since 1900 (2007) by David Edgerton is a fascinating book about how technology is actually used. The book carefully looks at how many technologies, like horses peaked well after their replacements were also in service. Edgerton is a professor of the History of Science at Imperial College. He knows his subject deeply and brings up many fascinating facts throughout the book and his thesis, that we focus on inventions rather than use to our detriment, is made very well. The book is full of fascinating facts, such as that horses in war peaked in WWII. Just how long battleships last and that the Manhattan project and the V2 were military failures is fascinating. It's worth noting that Edgerton does make the case that the V2 and nuclear bombs had huge importance after the conflict in which they were invented. It would be hard to read this book and not find out many new and fascinating books and to not appreciate, if not necessarily agree with the author's premise that older technologies often stay around much longer than we realise and that the flashy new technologies that people are often obsessed with are not always the most important.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sabo

    I had to read this book for a class in uni. While reading this book, I always wondered when I could put it back down because it was such a pain to read. Admittedly, the most coherent part of the book is probably the introduction. This is where the author explains his thesis, the reason why he is even writing this book - you‘ll have to read this because otherwise you‘re utterly stuck during the main part of the book. Edgerton‘s ‚Shock of the Old‘ is an amalgamation of random fun facts and examples I had to read this book for a class in uni. While reading this book, I always wondered when I could put it back down because it was such a pain to read. Admittedly, the most coherent part of the book is probably the introduction. This is where the author explains his thesis, the reason why he is even writing this book - you‘ll have to read this because otherwise you‘re utterly stuck during the main part of the book. Edgerton‘s ‚Shock of the Old‘ is an amalgamation of random fun facts and examples and little details which dont bring him to any conclusion. Youre left at the dead end point as a reader because where he should have explained WHY hes bringing this or that up now, you‘re left alone without an explanation. I assumed I was simply not reading the book well enough because I genuinely wondered what all the examples are about, but when I came online and saw that others felt the same, I had to share my experience. I am still not aure what his point was other than that the modern world isnt as full of innovations as might seem; that everything is a recycled ‚new‘ but actually old technology or that a lot of old technology is still used around the world. But you dont need to expand this thesis with selectively chosen examples over 200 pages!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Dancall

    Written in 2006, this history of technology looks and the subject from the point of view of how how things are used. This is interesting because often inventions take a long time to be adopted - and this can vary based on where the users are. For instance, the usage of horses in industry in Finland peaked in 1950. (It’s a bit like watching QI in that it challenges lots of your assumptions, and in fact you could get a couple of series out of stories in this book, like the impact the sewing machin Written in 2006, this history of technology looks and the subject from the point of view of how how things are used. This is interesting because often inventions take a long time to be adopted - and this can vary based on where the users are. For instance, the usage of horses in industry in Finland peaked in 1950. (It’s a bit like watching QI in that it challenges lots of your assumptions, and in fact you could get a couple of series out of stories in this book, like the impact the sewing machine has made to the world, and the wonderful revelation that there are 3.8m unused fondue sets in the UK). It also introduced me to the concept of ‘Creole Technology’; that is technologies transplanted from their place of origin finding uses on a greater scale elsewhere. It would be interesting to read an update, post iPhone, post ‘software is eating the world’, to see how Edgerton’s views have changed.

  12. 5 out of 5

    William Sherlock

    This is a very interesting book with technology perspectives not found in other similar books. For example, there is an entire chapter about maintenance, which only gets a brief, if any mention in most books on this topic. One point that did become clear is the narrow focus of discussion about global trends in the global nature of technology. In which the new and high tech in western countries is the dominant theme. This book would be a good primer for anyone trying to trade in ROW, rest of world This is a very interesting book with technology perspectives not found in other similar books. For example, there is an entire chapter about maintenance, which only gets a brief, if any mention in most books on this topic. One point that did become clear is the narrow focus of discussion about global trends in the global nature of technology. In which the new and high tech in western countries is the dominant theme. This book would be a good primer for anyone trying to trade in ROW, rest of world. It does have a exclamation nature in which insights are almost hyped, but there is not enough subsequent discussion about the significance of this insight. As if its mere existence was enough. This approach did became wearing after a few examples.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Popup-ch

    Most histories of technology focus on inventions and first use, but Edgerton shows convincingly that history looks very different if we instead look at peak use. There were more horses involved in WWII than in WWI. (The German march on Moscow had more horses than Napoleon's Grande Armee.) While the (modern) bike was invented in the 19th century, its use is still increasing. The prose gets a bit dense, and he keeps ramming home the same points over and over. Most histories of technology focus on inventions and first use, but Edgerton shows convincingly that history looks very different if we instead look at peak use. There were more horses involved in WWII than in WWI. (The German march on Moscow had more horses than Napoleon's Grande Armee.) While the (modern) bike was invented in the 19th century, its use is still increasing. The prose gets a bit dense, and he keeps ramming home the same points over and over.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Max

    This book touches on a lot of interesting topics about new and old technologies. It brings to light many interesting anecdotes about technologies being used in unexpected ways and unexpected places. But overall it does not string together a coherent story and is not clear what the takeaway or general trends are.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sharad Pandian

    A really readable book that succeeds marvellously in its aim to "disturb our sense of technological time, and of what is significant." A really readable book that succeeds marvellously in its aim to "disturb our sense of technological time, and of what is significant."

  16. 4 out of 5

    Isaac Perez Moncho

    The book presents how technology changes and it's adopted. One of the best points of the book is how it shows that old technologies exist for much longer than people think. The book presents how technology changes and it's adopted. One of the best points of the book is how it shows that old technologies exist for much longer than people think.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tim Kordas

    The "killing" chapter is somewhat hard to read -- but it was certainly interesting to read the basic background on how many animals (including humans) can be efficiently killed per unit time. Overall, re-visiting the significance of "popular" inventions was super-interesting. The "killing" chapter is somewhat hard to read -- but it was certainly interesting to read the basic background on how many animals (including humans) can be efficiently killed per unit time. Overall, re-visiting the significance of "popular" inventions was super-interesting.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Edgerton takes a position opposing the conventional on the significance of technology in history. This is unfortunate. His definition of "significance" is bewilderingly silly and utterly indefensible. Case in point. He cites that it was determined that 19th century railways increased the output of the US economy by approximately 5% of the US GDP. This is an enormous number, but Edgerton dismisses 5% GDP growth as insignificant by making a 1 year calculation and comparing it with the GDP without Edgerton takes a position opposing the conventional on the significance of technology in history. This is unfortunate. His definition of "significance" is bewilderingly silly and utterly indefensible. Case in point. He cites that it was determined that 19th century railways increased the output of the US economy by approximately 5% of the US GDP. This is an enormous number, but Edgerton dismisses 5% GDP growth as insignificant by making a 1 year calculation and comparing it with the GDP without the railway. Had he bothered to extend the calculation a few more years, he would have realized the magnitude of his logical error. This is sloppy work, inexcusable for an academic. Later he goes on to argue with an Encyclopedia Brittanica article on the economic importance of refrigeration by saying, shockingly, "refrigeration does not seem to be that important." Again, failing to consider the long-term economic or societal implications from the lack of a technology. He also fails to consider that technology builds on itself. So even if some particularly technology was not "significant" in his opinion, it is common that small advances are building blocks which will be combined with others to enable new, very significant, technologies. It is difficult to treat this work with any amount of seriousness. Edgerton may make a few good points, but his thesis is clearly wrong. There are many good histories of technology, but The Shock of the Old is not one of them. I would recommend the interested reader instead to A Short History of Technology by Derry and Williams, A History of Mechanical Inventions by Abbott Payson Usher, or perhaps How We Got To Now by Steven Johnson.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    Things move slower than we think. Could have made that point in an article.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Alexander McAuliffe

    "Thinking about the use of things, rather than of technology, connects us directly with the world we know rather than the strange world in which ‘technology’ resides.” This book asks that we set aside the comfortable story of modern history advancing from one innovation to another, in favor of a more nuanced historicism of the ways that objects of technology are actually used. Edgerton alleges that this sort of “Wright-Brothers-to-Boeing-to-NASA” press-release history writing manages us to mislea "Thinking about the use of things, rather than of technology, connects us directly with the world we know rather than the strange world in which ‘technology’ resides.” This book asks that we set aside the comfortable story of modern history advancing from one innovation to another, in favor of a more nuanced historicism of the ways that objects of technology are actually used. Edgerton alleges that this sort of “Wright-Brothers-to-Boeing-to-NASA” press-release history writing manages us to mislead us about the past and the present, lending undeserved stature to the tech ‘evangelists’ of our own day. Instead, we ought to focus our attention on the actual *use* of material things. In doing so, we notice that the technologies that actually shape our lives are older and less ‘innovative’ than we’ve been led to think. Another very interesting part of this book is its demonstration that the actual inventors of world-changing innovations are not corporate R&D departments, or even government agencies, but tinkerers of all sorts using and changing technology. This offers an astute parallel with Taleb’s writing on anti-fragility, and on education/research funding as an ornament of success, rather than its author. Edgerton makes a lucid plea for a more thoughtful, contextual historicism centered on the use rather than the invention of ‘technologies’. The opportunity this offers to reevaluate the received history of the 20th century, and our understanding of technology in the present day, is compelling. Recommended by: Adam Tooze and Nassim Nicholas Taleb Bonus: One ‘shock of the old’ methods that Edgerton mentions are insecticide-treated bed nets, the cheapest and most effective way to prevent malaria. I encourage you to learn about or donate to the quiet, transparent, and effective humanitarian work of the Against Malaria Foundation. Bonus II: As a reminder to watch out for Survivorship Bias, even in political narratives or historical writing: "The history of invention and innovation needs to focus on all inventions and innovations at a particular time, independently of their success or failure.”

  21. 5 out of 5

    Foxears

    I read this for a course in history of technology. It is not a book I would read by myself, but I'm glad I powered through it. The book makes excellent points about the problem in how history of technology is told today (as a series of inventions). His point, that history is more complex than that, is an excellent one and he backs it up with several examples that goes against the common view we have today. The book is shocking (hence the title) on many areas and a lot of stuff you've been taken I read this for a course in history of technology. It is not a book I would read by myself, but I'm glad I powered through it. The book makes excellent points about the problem in how history of technology is told today (as a series of inventions). His point, that history is more complex than that, is an excellent one and he backs it up with several examples that goes against the common view we have today. The book is shocking (hence the title) on many areas and a lot of stuff you've been taken for granted ("that's just how it is") are proved wrong, or at least very unlikely, in Edgerton's book. I think it is very important that more people get introduced to the ideas presented by Edgerton in this book, from historians to politicians. So that we can tell history more close to how it was, and make decisions that is based on concepts that actually works. For example Sweden's former minister for education, Jan Björklund, wanting to put a lot of money on research because it will help the economy, when, according to Edgerton, there is absolutely no relationship between what a country spends on R&D and its economical growth rate. I'm convinced that a lot (not all) of what Edgerton is saying is true, but it is of course hard (if not impossible) to change the way you think right away. This book has really been eye-opening for me, and I will recommend it to anyone interested in reading about a different view on history of technology. The reason I gave the book only 3/5 stars is because of the way the book is written. It is very heavy with examples, which in one way is good, but every once in a while there are examples that seem to make no point. Also I was very frustrated with how he used the term "male technologies" on several occasions in the book. I have no idea what he means by this phrase, and he makes no attempt to explain it.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ushan

    This book attempts to correct what the author thinks are biases in the historiography of twentieth-century technology. He wants to shift the emphasis from invention to actual use and from production to maintenance. Oftentimes something was invented in one country but used elsewhere, or many years after the so-called superior alternative technologies appeared; oftentimes maintaining existing machines and systems took up more resources than making new ones. Horses were more important in the two Wo This book attempts to correct what the author thinks are biases in the historiography of twentieth-century technology. He wants to shift the emphasis from invention to actual use and from production to maintenance. Oftentimes something was invented in one country but used elsewhere, or many years after the so-called superior alternative technologies appeared; oftentimes maintaining existing machines and systems took up more resources than making new ones. Horses were more important in the two World Wars than mechanized transport; the rickshaw was more important than the Concorde. The American atomic bomb and the German V-2 ballistic missile were stunningly expensive and wasteful high-tech weapons. The Germans could have made 24,000 fighter planes instead of the 6,000 disposable V-2s, but fortunately for the Allied cause, they didn't; the Americans could have made five times as many heavy guns or one-third more tanks instead of the atomic bombs, but unfortunately for the Allied cause, they didn't. Technologies invented in a rich country and transplanted to a poorer country often developed in strange "creole" ways. Over the years, a Ghanian taxi driver replaced parts of his Peugeot 504 with locally available components: fuses with copper wire, gaskets with pieces of old tires, lock-pins with nails. This is typical for old cars and trucks imported into Africa, which would have been junked in the rich countries but are kept running by daily maintenance. I was reminded of the Soviet PDP-11 clones, which were used as PCs, unlike the American PDP-11. I sometimes wonder how our technologies will adapt to this century's resource exhaustion and environmental crises, and judging by Edgerton's book, it is unlikely that a radically new high-tech solution will be the answer.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Tony Fitzpatrick

    Technology is usually thought of as a modern phenomenon, primarily associated with the first world, and offering benefits that sweep away the inventions of the past. This book aimed to show that our pre-conceptions of technological improvement, and how it is driven using research, invention and other progress, are misplaced. Successful applications of technology frequently adopt past concepts and ideas, reuse long established techniques, and are always the result of borrowing, sharing and co-ope Technology is usually thought of as a modern phenomenon, primarily associated with the first world, and offering benefits that sweep away the inventions of the past. This book aimed to show that our pre-conceptions of technological improvement, and how it is driven using research, invention and other progress, are misplaced. Successful applications of technology frequently adopt past concepts and ideas, reuse long established techniques, and are always the result of borrowing, sharing and co-operation. No one nation is a "top dog" in driving invention and technology, and the relationship between new ideas and growth is frequently tenuous. David Edgerton is the Hans Rausing Professor of the History of Science and Technology and Professor of Modern British History at King's College London and a historian, with a special interest in the aircraft industry. This book clearly demonstrates that our modern focus on innovation makes us unnecessarily dependent on novelty. Edgerton's clear premise is that we need to focus on results and what works. I especially enjoyed his sections on the key role of maintenance, with some excellent examples from the aero industry, and the way in which conventional weapons are far more cost efficient (and lethal) than the big "poster child" weapons programmes of nuclear bombs and smart fighters. His message - use what is readily available, and get the job done. I used to work with lots of businesses that could do with a dose of that. Interesting read, although a little poorly structured in parts which made the narrative sometimes hard to follow. The author is an academic and writing for popular science I don't think comes naturally to him. However - I enjoyed it in the main and was pleased to have read it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Will

    "The First World War was a chemists' war because of the innovation of gas warfare; the Second World War a physicists' war because of radar and atomic weapons. Now we are living through a revolution in military affairs linked to innovations in information processing. Many accounts of the relations of technology and war tell us this simple innovation-based story. But even a cursory look at the military technologies in use will make clear just how misleading a picture that is. Even at the end of th "The First World War was a chemists' war because of the innovation of gas warfare; the Second World War a physicists' war because of radar and atomic weapons. Now we are living through a revolution in military affairs linked to innovations in information processing. Many accounts of the relations of technology and war tell us this simple innovation-based story. But even a cursory look at the military technologies in use will make clear just how misleading a picture that is. Even at the end of the twentieth century, war was a matter of rifles, artillery, tanks and aeroplanes, as it was many decades earlier. These technologies of war are surprisingly invisible as technologies. If we go to the great national science and industry museums of the world, we will not see them. We will find aircraft, radar and atomic bombs, but as applications to war of civilian sciences and technologies. There is a division, implicit but powerful, between things which belong to the realm of the military and those in the world of science and technology that are taken to be essentially civilian. It suggests that the great innovations in arms in the twentieth century were in essentially civilian technologies applied to war, and that they transformed twentieth-century war. They did this by civilianising and totalising it. Put another way the key themes are the industrialisation and civilianisation of war since the late nineteenth century. War becomes a matter of turning over the whole of society to the mass production of weapons, to total, industrial war in which civilians in factories are as much combatants, and thus targets, as soldiers on the front."

  25. 5 out of 5

    Leonard Houx

    The Shock of the Old has grown in my estimation since I have had time to think it over. I find it especially helpful read against the anti-scientific stances of philosophers like Adorno and Horkheimer in Dialectic of Enlightment or Heidegger's in his claim that technologised agriculture is "the same as the manufacturing of corpses in the gas chambers and the extermination camps, the same as the blockade and starvation of the countryside, the same as the production of the hydrogen bombs". But, o The Shock of the Old has grown in my estimation since I have had time to think it over. I find it especially helpful read against the anti-scientific stances of philosophers like Adorno and Horkheimer in Dialectic of Enlightment or Heidegger's in his claim that technologised agriculture is "the same as the manufacturing of corpses in the gas chambers and the extermination camps, the same as the blockade and starvation of the countryside, the same as the production of the hydrogen bombs". But, oddly, Edgerton doesn't really talk about that. He generally doesn't talk about much to do with anyone's actual take on technology. Now, he can't talk about everything. But why, the reader asks, has technology been such a defining issue? Not just in our everyday use of technology, but in our identities, in our relatiionships, in our understanding of truth? This book bears no insight into this. As a damper on both the techno-hystericists and techno-boosterists, his cynicism is welcome. But because he doesn't explain how technology may have changed anything, it feels a bit like flooding your flat to put out a kitchen fire. Also: in his interesting, rambling-yet-empirical style, I felt in some weaker chapters perhaps like I was sinking in a swamp of uncontextualised facts. Like: oh? really? Train cars can be used for up to seventy years? Wow. Wait, I actually have no idea if that is a long time or not.)

  26. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    There's nothing hugely objectionable in this sweeping history, but not much to recommend it either. For someone who knows nothing about the basic premises of technological determinism or the great man theory (i.e., that both are wrong), this book might offer a helpful and legible corrective. However, if Edgerton's argument is that the practices of technological use must be studied in order to fully illuminate their history (and this is the argument he sets forth in his introduction), what follow There's nothing hugely objectionable in this sweeping history, but not much to recommend it either. For someone who knows nothing about the basic premises of technological determinism or the great man theory (i.e., that both are wrong), this book might offer a helpful and legible corrective. However, if Edgerton's argument is that the practices of technological use must be studied in order to fully illuminate their history (and this is the argument he sets forth in his introduction), what follows are terse outlines that demonstrate very little about technologies in use that couldn't be gleaned from the most basic encyclopedia entry on the topic. Generally, this is the problem with seeking to write about a period as vast as the one Edgerton takes up. Nonetheless, more in-depth case studies would have made this book more legible and the assonance between his overarching argument and the book's contents far more overt. My negativity is surely a product of the lack of "popular" histories I read (if an OUP book could be called popular), but my more pervading critique is that even a book aimed at general audiences could take on more than this does.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Bob

    A series of anecdotal essays with lots of interesting facts, intended to serve as a corrective to the common view of technological progress as being driven by invention and innovation. Instead, Edgerton identifies eight characteristics that interact (differently in different nations) to speed or slow adoption of new things. 1) Significance, which gives an overview of the varying values different societies give to the 'new'; Time discusses varying periods of adoption and use; 3) Production descr A series of anecdotal essays with lots of interesting facts, intended to serve as a corrective to the common view of technological progress as being driven by invention and innovation. Instead, Edgerton identifies eight characteristics that interact (differently in different nations) to speed or slow adoption of new things. 1) Significance, which gives an overview of the varying values different societies give to the 'new'; Time discusses varying periods of adoption and use; 3) Production describes what segments of a society will actually create and distribute the advances; 4) Maintenance which discusses the value placed on repair (rather than replacement) of existing equipment; 5) Nations, argues that neo-Mercantile economics and secrecy are not always helpful to the society that has created the innovation; 6) War, gives examples of surprisingly low efficiency of some modern military technologies; 7) Killing which describes both agriculture and warfare; and 8) Invention, describes the unpredictable nature of inspiration and more effective spur of military necessity. Interesting, but not well-written, soundly aruged, or even very humane, for all the author's posing.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Paul W

    Edgerton reframes the discussion on technology by focusing on a €"use-centred history of technology"€™ as distinct from an innovation-centric focus. He argues that a pitfall of an innovation-centric focus is that we underestimate the past, overestimate the power of the present, and risk falling into the trap of believing that future technology will solve the problems of the present (as some politicians now argue in relation to global warming). Another counterfactual point arising from a use-centre Edgerton reframes the discussion on technology by focusing on a €"use-centred history of technology"€™ as distinct from an innovation-centric focus. He argues that a pitfall of an innovation-centric focus is that we underestimate the past, overestimate the power of the present, and risk falling into the trap of believing that future technology will solve the problems of the present (as some politicians now argue in relation to global warming). Another counterfactual point arising from a use-centred view of technology is an awareness of the importance of the operation and maintenance of things relative to their creation and design. Edgerton questions the conventional view of the value of many inventions noting, for example, that horse-powered technology played a far greater role in World War 2 than the innovations of jet and rocket power. While Edgerton's key themes are of interest, his articulation of them can be meandering and even, at times, seemingly irrelevant. However Edgerton succeeds in his primary point of emphasising that most change takes place from the transfer of techniques from place to place, so that ultimately imitating is more powerful than innovation.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Maria

    Did you know that in the beginning of the 19th century most American farm households owned a car but not a tractor – and that it was the opposite in Russia? And that WW I killed more horses than any other war before? This book deals with the simultaneous existence of old and new technologies. New technologies do not necessarily replace old ones but expand the field of opportunities for customers. E-books do not replace books but add to the range of media available for literature lovers; e-bikes Did you know that in the beginning of the 19th century most American farm households owned a car but not a tractor – and that it was the opposite in Russia? And that WW I killed more horses than any other war before? This book deals with the simultaneous existence of old and new technologies. New technologies do not necessarily replace old ones but expand the field of opportunities for customers. E-books do not replace books but add to the range of media available for literature lovers; e-bikes will not kick conventional bikes from our roads, and so on. Likewise, much more professionals are busy with maintaining and repairing existing items than inventing new ones. Innovation constitutes just a small fraction of engineering ingenuity today. The volume illustrates this phenomenon for fields like agriculture, mobility/transport, food, industrial processing, or even warfare. Too bad I'm too bad at remembering all the facts in this book but it is a must-read for everyone involved in innovation processes!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    This is, in my mind, a good book that could have been great. It does a nice job of philosophically separating innovation from invention, and providing demonstration of the difference in studying the history of technology from the perspective of actual usage rather than as a timeline of spectacular innovations. However, the author (David Edgerton) does not eloquently draw the data back to his thesis through restatement, and the examples (being interesting in themselves) lead this reader to forget This is, in my mind, a good book that could have been great. It does a nice job of philosophically separating innovation from invention, and providing demonstration of the difference in studying the history of technology from the perspective of actual usage rather than as a timeline of spectacular innovations. However, the author (David Edgerton) does not eloquently draw the data back to his thesis through restatement, and the examples (being interesting in themselves) lead this reader to forget where the author was going in the first place. I believe that some of the author's arguments set up "straw men" to mow down, in that the positions he chooses to critique represent extreme technophilia. That said, the book is a valuable critique, and there are plenty of examples and insightful arguments in the book to make it a worthwhile read.

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