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Between Human and Machine: Feedback, Control, and Computing before Cybernetics (Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology)

4.7 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0801880575
ISBN-10: 0801880572
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Editorial Reviews

Review

[Mindell's] account of this complex story of engineering, people, and organizations―academic, industrial and govenment―is well researched and well told.

(Stuart Bennett International Journal of Adaptive Control and Signal Processing)

While one might think a history of servomechanisms, feedback loops, and fire control systems would be of interest only to a narrow audience, one of David A. Mindell's great achievements in this rich and multilayered book is to show the centrality of control systems―the machines (and humans) that control machines―to the history of computing, the history of technology, and indeed to American history in the twentieth century.

(Ross Bassett American Historical Review)

In contextualizing the theory of cybernetics, Mindell gives engineering back forgotten parts of its history, and shows how important historical circumstances are to technological change... Mindell is scrupulous about providing this historical context; providing biographical insight into the major players in the history; and giving the reader a good sense of what it was like to be a Bell Labs scientist, or an engineer for Sperry.

(Michele Tepper Networker)

The book is an eye-opener in understanding who our engineering ancestors were and what they did.

(David L. Elliott IEEE Control Systems Magazine)

In an exceptionally insightful and lucid account, Mindell shows how engineering cultures emerging in specific institutional contexts profoundly shaped the design of human–machine systems and defined the human operator as part of a larger technological system.

(Slava Gerovitch IEEE Annals of the History of Computing)

This is a good and surprising book. It is good in its articulate survey of dynamic man-machine systems in the period from 1916 to 1948; it is surprising in its convincing revision of our picture of the origins of the computer and cybernetics.

(Larry Owens Technology and Culture)

The reader who makes the effort to follow Mindell's argument will be rewarded with a fresh insight into the emergence of the digital computer and all that its invention implies.

(Paul E. Ceruzzi Journal of American History)

This book is the first major study by a professional historian and as such should help to draw the attention of historians to the embeddedness of feedback control in 20th century technological systems.

(Stuart Bennett International Journal of Adaptive Control and Signal Processing)

A joy for both engineers and historians... Mindell's major contribution is to explore in abundant and fascinating detail the intellectual and physical roots of cybernetics in fields as distinct as communications engineering, military fire control, and analog computing.

(Karl D. Stephan IEEE Technology and Society Magazine)

A rare historian who insightfully understands both the creators of technology and the technology they create, David Mindell engagingly tells a story of technological change in an organizational context. In Between Human and Machine, he provides a revealing account of a search for controls in a twentieth-century world of complex systems.

(Thomas P. Hughes, author of Rescuing Prometheus and American Genesis: A Century of Invention and Technological Enthusiasm, 1870-1970)

This is a terrific book, well written and distinguished for its solid scholarship, technical expertise, and historical sophistication.

(Michael S. Mahoney, Princeton University)

David Mindell's Between Human and Machine successfully takes on the daunting task of exploring the machines behind the cybernetic decades of mid-century. It is a book of range and depth, moving from the sophisticated new weapons systems of World War II to the technologies, including the computer, that so marked the postwar era. By digging deep into the machines themselves, into the problems of feedback and stability―but also into management and political context―Mindell brings us a real sense of this transformative moment in the history of technical culture. The implications of this alteration in the concept of a machine will be with us for a long time to come, and this book is a first-rate place to understand its origins.

(Peter L. Galison, Harvard University)

Mindell's authoritative mastery of the disparate technologies he traces will secure this book an influential place in the historiography of science and technology in World War II.

(Alex Roland, Duke University)

Masterful! Between Human and Machine is an insightful and highly readable account of the people and the ideas that paved the way for modern computing.

(M. Mitchell Waldrop, author of Dream Machine: J.C.R. Licklider and the Revolution that Made Computing Personal)

Engineering education, research and practice of the past half century was deeply influenced by the systems built during World War Il. In this perceptive book, David Mindell shows that systems built during the decades before the war and the concepts underlying them played a key role in the success of the war effort.

(Joel Moses, Institute Professor and Professor of Engineering Systems and Computer Science, MIT)

From the Publisher

"A rare historian who insightfully understands both the creators of technology and the technology they create, David Mindell engagingly tells a story of technological change in an organizational context. In Between Human and Machine, he provides a revealing account of a search for controls in a 20th century world of complex systems."—Thomas P. Hughes, author of Rescuing Prometheus and American Genesis: A Century of Invention and Technological Enthusiasm, 1870-1970

"Mindell's authoritative mastery of the disparate technologies he traces will secure this book an influential place in the historiography of science and technology in World War II."—Alex Roland, Duke University --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology
  • Paperback: 456 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press (September 10, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801880572
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801880575
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 1.1 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,198,116 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

By F. R Anscombe on November 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Professor Mindell has rendered a great service to the history of computing through painstaking original research that supports this well-written book. He examines how civilian mathematicians, engineers, and scientists worked on the practical problem of improving the effectiveness of anti-air-craft fire during World War II. AT&T's Bell Telephone Laboratories, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, and U.S. Navy contractors like Sperry Gyroscope and Ford Instruments collaborated in this interdisciplinary endeavor. Fire control entailed obtaining data on incoming planes or missiles, projecting their course, and computing an intercepting solution. Analog computers were proven and suited for this circumstance.
Mindell's book sheds valuable light on the contributions of many brilliant technologists, among them Thornton Fry, Harold Black, Harry Nyquist, George Stibitz, Hendrik Bode, and Claude Shannon from Bell Labs, and Harold Hazen, Gordon Brown, Norbert Wiener, and Samuel Caldwell of MIT. His book also adds further evidence of the extraordinary legacies of Vannevar Bush and Warren Weaver. During World War II, Bush headed the National Defense Research Committee that provided an avenue for civilian scientists to contribute toward military technologies. Bush chose his friend mathematician Weaver from the Rockefeller Foundation to steer the important project of fire control. Going beyond Mindell's book, Princeton mathematicians were involved in fire control, since the university was then the epicenter of U.S. mathematics, including Sam Wilks, Merrell Flood, John W. Tukey, Brockway McMillan, among others. Later in the war, Weaver shifted out of managing fire control into leading other NDRC applications of mathematics to problems of WWII. This story has not been told.
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Format: Paperback
David Mindell, the author of "War, Technology & and Experience aboard the USS Monitor", has presented his most recent work, "Between Human and Machine", as part of the John Hopkins University Series on Studies in the History of Technology. Mindell, who feels equally passionate about engineering and literature - and has the degrees from Yale to prove it -, shows in this new book his constructive obsession for the detailed study of the evolution of technological thought, which helped him obtain a PhD in the History of Technology from MIT, where he is now a renowned professor on the field.

It would be easy to describe this book, which is subtitled "Feedback, Control and Computing before Cybernetics", in few words, as a book in the field of the history of technology, concerned mainly with the development of control systems during the period between world wars. But this would be a great injustice, for the text is much more than that. It is a twist-by-twist, close up account of the personal, managerial, institutional, military and even political forces that conjured up to evolve what came to be known as cybernetics, the modern fruits of which - including computers - are rapidly becoming the corner-stone of our technology and an inextricable part of our lives.

Mindell's diversity of interests, encompassing the sciences and the humanities, undoubtedly the result of his childhood experience in an intellectually multidisciplinary family, allows him to embark with great enthusiasm in a highly complex and painstakingly detailed historical account of the development of control systems from the early 1910's to the late 1940's, a topic that - although seemingly dry at first glance - turns out to be surprisingly revealing, a real treat for both historians and systems scientists.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The author has done a service to the history of technology by thoroughly researching original work that is now almost forgotten in today's fully digital world. This book is especially useful in discussing the role of information and computing as elements of feedback control, with careful attention to the human element and analog signals and computation. The importance of military necessity as a driving force for technical advances through the world wars and intervening time is made clear. An excellent piece of research and good writing about difficult topics. The only missing part is recognition of Shewhart's statistical quality control as a relegated field in the same time frame.
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