"Technological wariness is an enduring disturbance, with roots in religion," writes popular-science interpreter Rhodes in his introduction to this welcome anthology of 20th-century scientific invention. "Prometheus stealing fire from the gods and giving it to humans carries the sense of it; so does the serpent persuading Eve to taste the knowledgeable apple, and the Jewish myth of the Golem, a Frankenstein's monster animated by incorporations of holy words." Gods and monsters abound in these pages, made up of excerpts from essays, reports, articles, and speeches by both inventors and their critics. Rhodes includes, for instance, a worried editorial from 1931 by the journalist Floyd Allport, who presciently noted the community-destroying effects of technological advances such as the private car and the telephone; he also reproduces any number of warnings from the likes of Aldous Huxley, Vannevar Bush, and Edward Abbey that humankind's scientific imagination far outstrips our moral capacity. Joining these jeremiads in Rhodes's pages are more optimistic assessments, including Intel Corporation founder Gordon Moore's famous formulation, from 1965, that "the complexity of integrated circuits has approximately doubled every year since their introduction," whereas "cost per function has decreased several thousand-fold"--which explains why personal computers, among other items, have become increasingly more powerful and yet less expensive. Anyone interested in the development of 20th-century science, applied or theoretical, will delight in Rhodes's collection. --Gregory McNamee
From Scientific American
"The Western world has argued passionately about technology--what it is, where it's going, whether it's good or bad for us--throughout the twentieth century, even while inventing it at a ferocious and accelerating rate," Rhodes writes. "This anthology samples that vital debate." Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb, excerpts the writings of many people who either helped to develop technology or pondered its impact; his selections make rewarding reading. He begins with journalist Mark Sullivan, pointing out in the 1920s that the words "radio," "movie" and "aviator" were unknown in 1900, and he carries on with 213 more contributions from both well-known and obscure observers of the technological scene. The book is part of the Sloan Technology Series of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
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