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Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society, 1880-1930 (Softshell Books) Reprint Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0801846144
ISBN-10: 0801846145
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Editorial Reviews

Review

An exciting, major contribution to the field of history, for it establishes very convincingly that the growth of... power networks is as intrinsic to and characteristic of modern society as the growth of manorialism was to medieval society.

(American Historical Review)

How the West was wired.

(Times Literary Supplement)

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Product Details

  • Series: Softshell Books
  • Paperback: 488 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press; Reprint edition (March 1, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801846145
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801846144
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 1.1 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #309,991 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Jason N. Palmer on July 27, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Thomas Hughes is professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, and has been the Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, and the Royal Institute of Technology (Stockholm). He is a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. In 1985 he was awarded the Leonardo da Vinci Medal of the Society for the History of Technology for Networks of Power. In addition to Networks of Power, he has also published Rescuing Prometheus (1998) and Elmer Sperry: Inventor and Engineer (1993). With Agatha Hughes he edited Lewis Mumford: Public Intellectual (1990). Dr. Hughes completed his graduate work in European history at the University of Virginia.
In Networks of Power: Electrification of Western Society, 1880-1930, Thomas Hughes outlines his seminal theory of "Complex Systems." Hughes argues that "the most impressive patterns imposed on the world by men impelled by the force of constructive instincts [are] systems, coherent structures comprised of interacting, interconnected components." Hughes thoroughly investigates the development of electrical supply systems; in doing so, he exposes the "ordering, integrating, coordinating, and systematizing nature of modern human societies." In exposing these social and cultural influences, Hughes nails shut the coffin that is technological determinism. Several elements are key to Hughes' theory. Hughes introduces "reverse salients," "technological style," and "momentum."
A reverse salient is a problem that defies solution, while other (possibly related) problems in the system advance; the reverse salient is more descriptive than its technological equivalent-bottleneck.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Alan Lyscars on September 12, 2000
Format: Paperback
If you're a history buff, and appreciate the technology that surrounds us all, you'll love reading "Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society, 1880-1930" by Tom Hughes. Hughes takes us back to the days of fierce rivalry between Edison and Westinghouse; the early era of electric power generation and consumption where the battle of DC vs. AC consumer power was born and decided.
Hughes doesn't stop there. Also included in this well-footnoted edition are in-depth narratives of the evolution of commercial power systems in England and Germany through 1930. A well written, readable snapshot in time.
Compelling historical reading for the non-technologist as well as the student of electrical power commercialization.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By James Hoogerwerf on April 17, 2007
Format: Paperback
Electrical power is one of the key components, along with chemicals, steel and petroleum, of the second industrial revolution. Hughes focuses on complex electrical supply networks and the impact of society, or culture, on shaping technology. The title of his book is brilliant in its dual imagery of large electrical distribution systems and the social, economic, and political interplay necessary to create them.

Hughes begins by describing an element of Thomas Edison's inventive genius not commonly recognized by historians. Edison not only invented marvelous machines, he also invented what may be his most significant contribution, the electrical power system. Edison, an inventor-entrepreneur, saw that it was not enough to only have electric lighting. Electricity must be made widely available. He built the first network capable of distributing electrical power to the public. Generating power at the Pearl Street station, Edison introduced the concept of a central-station supply system electrifying a square mile area in New York City.

Hughes' model shows how electrical systems developed in general and then, expanding on his theme, he discusses regional variations in Berlin, London, and Chicago. The model begins with 1, an invention and its development at one site, then, 2, the technology transfers and expands into a larger system, which, 3, grows despite "reverse salients." A "reverse salient" is a problem of uneven systems growth which threatens the entire system An example is the uneconomic transmission of direct current over long distances which was eventually solved by the use of alternating current. (A "reverse salient," however, does not have to be technical in nature.
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Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society, 1880-1930 (Softshell Books)
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