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The Axemaker's Gift Paperback – Bookmark Calendar, March 31, 1997

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 342 pages
  • Publisher: Tarcher (March 31, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0874778565
  • ISBN-13: 978-0874778564
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #202,317 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Dr. M.Caton Armantrout on December 2, 2002
Format: Paperback
Technology began as soon as humans determined to use tools. Burke and Ornstein call these people the axemakers. The axemakers' talents offered us a bargain, and we took it, despite its multifarious effects. "In our ancient past, the all-powerful axemaker talent for performing the precise, sequential process that shaped axes would later give rise to the precise, sequential thought that would eventually generate language and logic and rules, which would formalize and discipline thinking itself" (p. xii). Accordingly, with every invention and modification of technology, humans learned to adapt to the effects of that change. The authors of this book argue that for the first time in human progress, "we can consciously take our development in our own hands and use it to generate talents that will suit the world of tomorrow"
Easy reading--interesting -- consistent message. The authors may bend the historical discussions to maintain the metaphor, and how well its double edge works. Language, a primary gift, diminished the elders' responsibility to teach, but offered the opportunity to learn from many sources, past and present. For today's leaders, a warning remains clear: Evaluate what is new and its consequences before rushing to embrace it. The Axemaker continues to hone a double edge of hope and hurt. Burke and Ornstein call upon us to take care -- to avoid the "cut and control" concepts that separate people, ideas, scientific thought, emotional well-being, and society. Technology can work for us if we seek the wholeness of life.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 22, 1998
Format: Paperback
A succinct account of how throughout history technology hasled the human race down certain avenues to the exclusion of others,and how these paths further narrowed our destinies, and created further roads not taken.
Textbook examples include how the invention of the telescope and the printing press gave rise to discoveries and social trends that weakened the authority of Rome through a revision of cosmology and the spread of literacy, and how the stethescope set in motion of a new age of medicine that succeeded in rendering the patient virtually irrelevant to the diagnostic process.
Thus Burke and Ornstein's book is an excellent history, but one that fails the book's subtitle, in that it deals only fitfully with how these technological developments have been harmful in constructing our picture of the world. Surely the most compelling examples of technology's deleterious effects on both culture and the physical environment exist in the 20th centrury, yet the authors choose only to deal with this period in the penultimate chapter. Moreover, their recommendations in the final chapter seek to cure the ills created by technology with ... more technology. The use of a high-tech information "web" as a purely awareness-heightening prophylactic against the ravages of technology is something of a naive choice. The same "It'll change the world" claims made for the telephone are currently being made for the Internet: in view of this we should not forget that "despite the liberating dreams of the telenova", as Mark Slouka has pointed out, "piped water remained a dream for millions".
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Joel Lindsey on August 23, 2001
Format: Paperback
Burke and Ornstein provide a fascinating historical narrative, but never seem to really justify their implicit claim that roads not taken due to technological advance and correlated reliance on linear rationality might have been preferable. Their focus on unforseen consequences of technologies coupled with a critique of political technocracy in varied forms seems a good framework for understanding our present global woes(though not at all a new approach--refer to any of John Dewey's writings on culture from the 20s and 30s). Their contrasting of natural and unnatural modes of human behavior and cognition, though, seem philosophically untenable(the natural being our Paleolithic hard-wiring, the unnatural any cultural addition), as do their prescriptions for solving our ecological/political problems. They advocate direct democracy in small communities with access to excellent education, health, and new arational information systems, a formula almost identical to the old Greek axemaker notion of the Polis(except arational as opposed to hyper-rational). Why the direct democracy of these hypothetical communities would be more accepting of other communities, more willing to recognize the need to share/conserve resources and think in global/holistic ways, more intelligent in their recognition of the deleterious potential effects of new technologies is not clear. "Expert" knowledges have clearly brought horrible consequences in the past few centuries, but the Cultural Revolution brought more tragedy than the AMA ever has. Hegel, axemaker icon though he was, wrote that the Owl of Minerva only spreads her wings at dusk, by which he meant that as mere humans we are always condemned to only understand history retroactively, if at all. We can, of course, do a better job of evaluating technologies in more democratic ways with more of an eye to a sustainable future. Insofar as Burke and Ornstein point to this path, I applaud them.
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