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Machines as the Measure of Men: Science, Technology, and Ideologies of Western Dominance (Cornell Studies in Comparative History)

4.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0801497605
ISBN-10: 0801497604
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"'Remarkable' is an adjective that is most appropriate for this study. Broad in interpretation, rich in detail, and supported by a wealth of information, Michael Adas's work will command the attention of every scholar of modern imperialism, every student of the broad subject of 'technology.' . . . Adas offers an example of popular history at its very best, which is cultural history exquisitely constructed of detailed research, a well-designed overarching theme, and nicely polished prose. . . . It will long be pivotal in all discussions that revolve around the technology and culture of modern European expansion. In sum, this is a most compelling, splendid book."―American Historical Review



"Provocative and fascinating. . . . Adas's deft use of quotation gives the missionaries, travelers, explorers, administrators, and teachers their authentic voices. He provides a wealth of documentation. One learns things worth knowing on every page. . . . One leaves Machines as the Measure of Men persuaded by its essential analysis: that mastery of nature lay at the heart of Europe's comparison of itself to others. As an intellectual history of French and British assessments of Africa, China, and India, the book is wonderfully informative and nuanced. It will alter the debate about the history of Europe's relationship to the rest of the world."―New York Times Book Review



"The terrain of Adas's magnificent book is vast. He starts with the first encounters of intrepid European explorers in the seventeenth century and ends with the seeds of doubt which the Great War in Europe sowed in the western civilizing process. . . . A vast range of sources are cited. Alternatives to the predominant ideology of western scientific and technological progress are explored, and the potential for diffusion of science and technology into different third world societies is also illuminated."―Times Higher Education Supplement



"A remarkable book that thoroughly recasts our understanding of the colonial encounter. Adas dissects the ideology that underwrote the imperial hubris of Northern Europe with rare breadth and insights."―James C. Scott, Yale University

About the Author

Michael Adas is Abraham E. Voorhees Professor of History and Board of Governors' Chair at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. He is the author most recently of Dominance by Design: Technological Imperatives and America's Civilizing Mission.

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Product Details

  • Series: Cornell Studies in Comparative History
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press (August 21, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801497604
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801497605
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #819,020 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Roger D. Launius VINE VOICE on May 7, 2005
Why is it that Europe explored, conquered, and created colonies in Asia, Africa, the Americas, and islands around the world? Why not the other way around? The answer, for historian Michael Adas of Rutgers University, rests with the development of western science and technology, and the manner in which these systems of knowledge were understood and used. Indeed, Adas is most concerned with how Europeans employed these understandings to relate to the non-Europeans they encountered. Dividing the book in three parts--before the industrial revolution, the age of industrialization, and the twentieth century--Adas brilliantly analyzes the change over time of how Europeans related to these other cultures. Always, as he finds by unpacking explorers' and other observers' accounts, Europeans expressed superiority for the others they found. Sometimes they claimed moral and social superiority but at other times, and increasingly as time progressed, they asserted scientific and technical preeminence. As European industrialization took hold, the question of superiority moved almost exclusively from a moral basis to a material one, based on the creation of the more complex machines that emerged beginning in the seventeenth century.

Adas spends the majority of this challenging book building a complex and highly significant story of colonial justifications. He uses a broad range of sources from philosophers and thinkers such as Voltaire to explorers to such proponents of British imperialism as Rudyard Kipling to show the evolution of the colonial ideal. What emerges is a portrait, embraced by the Europeans, of Europe as clearly preeminent in the world and having the responsibility to civilize and christianize the "backward" peoples of the Earth.
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I am reading this excellent work on three levels. One is in accordance with the author's thesis, which i find compelling and well founded ( especially so as it confirms through laborious research my own conclusions ). Second, is as an example of clear prose writing. The author does not get in the way of his content through either foregrounding "style" or the embroidering of his narrative with obscure terms or references to fashionable "theory." Thirdly, the plenitude of references contained in the straightforward footnotes are a work of great value in themselves.
Simply selecting and following a fair sample of the references provided would serve as a foundation for a broad education in history, anthropology, technology and science.
This, in my estimation, is an indispensable work for any who are interested in global history, imperialism, racism, technology, science, colonialism, exploration or our current globalization debate.
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Michael Adas presents a thoroughly researched and clearly written compendium of the place of science and technology in the historical relations between the West and China, India and Africa, from the sixteenth century to the 20th. The centrality of the West's thinking, with few exceptions, of its machines as THE measure by which civilizations are to be measured, is revealing. Mr. Adas' insights provide much food for thought. His style of writing, and his organization are excellent. I would go so far as to say that reaching any reasonable understanding of world history requires reading this book.
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