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Machine Beauty: Elegance And The Heart Of Technology (Repr ed) (Masterminds) Paperback – December 22, 1998


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Product Details

  • Series: Repr ed) (Masterminds
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (December 22, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 046504316X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465043163
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,208,783 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Gelernter's lyrical rant on the critical role of beauty and aesthetics in computer technology comes just in time. Computer engineers and designers, who create software that is bloated with seldom-used features and that intrusively draws our attention to it rather than the task at hand, could greatly benefit from the pursuit of what Gelernter calls "deep beauty," the marriage of power and simplicity.

Gelernter suggests that the dichotomy between art/beauty and science/technology has led to inadequate academic training of computer-science students. He points out that the greatest minds in science and industry have always pursued beauty. "Machine beauty is the driving force behind technology and science," he says, and yet "beauty bothers us." Somehow it's perceived to be softer and less rigorous to train computer scientists in art, music, architecture, and design. However, Gelernter sees these disciplines as closely aligned with the mathematics and science that are the foundation of technology. Because of this lack of aesthetic education, much user interface has been poorly designed.

Gelernter's persuasive arguments are far-reaching as he casts a shrewd eye on everything from postmodernism to architecture to the nature of beauty itself. This short, often witty book is written by someone who has paid a price for his opinion--Gelernter was a target of the Unabomber and was critically injured in a mail-bomb attack in 1993. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Although based on a solid thesis?that great design is the marriage of simplicity and power?Gelernter's chronicle of beauty's role in the "rise of the desktop" often amounts to little more than a rehash of the rise of the Macintosh through the lens of aesthetics, plus some promotion for his own software. A Yale technologist who survived a 1993 Unabomber attack (described in his Drawing Life, 1996), Gelernter begins by demonstrating the affinity between the good design of computer hardware and software and the form-driven innovations of the Bauhaus. Soon, however, he is explaining Microsoft's triumph over Apple as at least partly due to the fact that "elegance gives everyone the creeps." A later chapter tells the story of the shift from time-sharing computing to the personal computer, and of the creation of a window-based operating system at a Xerox think tank?which Apple then co-opted. In the name of demonstrating alternatives to current modes of Web surfing and multimedia computing, Gelernter introduces his own computer programming language, "Linda," and "Lifestreams," a system for navigating the Web's info-glut. Gelernter envisions everyone having a personal Lifestream by 2010?a Web site where you receive personalized culls from the Web and conduct all personal business. While Gelernter's observations on how ideas get promulgated in the highly competitive world of computer futurism ring true, his paeans to his favorite products serve to obfuscate rather than illuminate his otherwise intriguing discussion of how design works in the realm of computer science and industry.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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3.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By B. Scott Andersen on March 14, 2002
Format: Paperback
What is beauty? Gelernter, in a work that is more an
essay than full-blown book, does a wonderful job of
drawing the reader into exploring that question. He
asks, "...could a mathematical proof, scientific theory,
or piece of software be 'beautiful' in the real, literal
way that a painting or symphony or rose can be beautiful?"
The answer, according to Gelernter, is a resounding "Yes".
Machine beauty, a simple elegance that resonates in its
observer, is the subject of the work. But, how might one
sense this? Gelernter offers this: "You might experience
something resembling machine beauty, even if you are no
scientist or engineer, when you drive a nail into a
board with one clean, graceful hammer stroke." Precisely!
"Deep beauty, 'resonant beauty' in which many types of
loveliness reinforce one another, is a principal topic
of this book" according to the author. He then explores
the following two claims: (1) "...machine beauty is
the driving force behind technology and science", and
(2) "... machine beauty bothers us. We act as a society
as if our goal were not to nurture or celebrate it but
to stamp it out."
Gelernter, a computer scientist and sometimes artist,
applies his many observations to the sad state of today's
computer software. "The hell with mathematics; let's
teach of our programmers about beauty" he exclaims!
There are long running comparisons between the WinTel
PC and Apple Macintosh in the work. It isn't a "sales
pitch" for one or the other; just a set of observations
on how the emphasis (or deemphasis) of beauty and
elegance drove both efforts.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 16, 2000
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed this book, it is well written. I thought from the cover it was more about telephones and radios instead of software interfaces. I find the author's perception that we strive for beauty and elegance in design, yet are afraid to admit to as much. Wouldn't the world be a better place if we put beauty and aethetics in design up there with efficiency and price? If something is truly well designed, it is beautiful. I'd recommend the book to anyone interested in design, maybe it will change a few people.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Tom Gray on March 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
Modern engineering systems are very complex and must be designed to meet conflicting constraints. The major hurdle facing an engineering designer is to find a way to meet these many competeing contraints in an affordable amount of time at an affordable price. Much work has gone on in computer science on the analysis of systems by formal methods. The hope of these technques is that the entire operation and requirements of a system can be captured in a mathematical model which would allow the 'correctness' of the sytem to its requirements to be proved.
This is the major ideas of such distingushed researchers as Hoare and Parnas. Unfortunately these methods have never been found to work in practice. For anything but a toy system the complexity of the formal model becomes intractable. But there is a more important reason for the failure. How can 'correctness' be defined fro a real world system which must work in a filed of changing requirements.
Gelernter identifies this problem but notes that it is solved everyday by real world engineers who must face real world requirements. These engineers are not deterred by the failure of formal methods. Instead they rely on a sense of beauty which is a sense gained from experience in how a system can meet its requiremtns. It is this abilty to see though the complexity to see the structure and pattern in the design that will dictate its degree of success that enable a human designer to function where strictly mathematical and logical techniques fail. Only techniques which use holistic thinking can succeed in in the real world.
It is often thought that human reaoning pales beside the clarity of logic and mathematics in understanding the world and how devices function. Gelernter rightly points out that this common attitude is precisely worng.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By JRob on March 11, 2002
Format: Paperback
The author seems to have started out with a premise I have held to since I read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" when I was in college. My first computer teacher, Ted Nelson, turned me on to the intrinsic beauty in things computerish with his enormously quirky "Computer Revolution/Dream Machines". My wife is a designer and I am in computers. We have had many long conversations about the false division drawn between art and science. So I thought I might have found a new soulmate when I picked up this little (176 pages) book. Too bad it wasn't so. Oh, Gelernter seems to be going the same way initially, even if I found the prose, and especially the examples, a little rough. But he just couldn't hold me. I found him spending too much time defending from his soapbox rather than illuminating. He seemed to be trying to write the textbook for a college course he wants to teach instead of reaching out to the reader. I don't think I could wholeheartedly recommend this book to my personal friends, so I can't recommend it to you either. Maybe next time.
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