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Creating the Twentieth Century: Technical Innovations of 1867-1914 and Their Lasting Impact (Technical Revolutions and Their Lasting Impact) Hardcover – August 25, 2005
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"[Smil's] scholarship mocks the boundaries that separate history from economics, geography from technology studies. He is unusually adept at combining his knowledge of how techniques actually work with his ability to illustrate their overall effects on society and the human condition.
The amount of pure learning and erudition that Smil brings to these 700 pages has to be experienced to be believed. In telling the story of modern technology since 1870 in a coherent way these 700 pages totally eclipse the competition."--Joel Mokyr, Departments of Economics and History, Northwestern University
"For readers interested in a good summary of the key technical developments of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they will find much to value in Smil's book."--American Historical Review
About the Author
Vaclav Smil is Distinguished Professor at the University of Manitoba, and the author of 19 books, including Feeding the World (MIT Press, 2000), Enriching the Earth: Transformation of World Food Production (MIT Press 2001), and Energy at the Crossroads (MIT Press 2003).
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The best thing about this book is that it changed my perspective and thinking. Not just about the Age of Synergy (the period between 1867 and 1914), but about our present day and age. I find it strangely reassuring to know that another generation successfully endured, and prospered during a period of profound change.
The conventional thinking of today is that we are living in a world that is changing at an ever increasing rate, never before experienced by mankind, and we are understandably stressed and anxious because of that. After reading this book, I am not so sure that is accurate - it seems the Age of Synergy shouldered much greater change.
I do have to mention one shortcoming of this book. The kindle edition has a number of stupid typos, often taking the form of "i.3" to refer to table "1.3". While nothing serious, and obviously the fault of the editor and not the author, they should not be here, as they interrupt the flow of the work. Seems to me the publisher could correct these errors and issue an update to those of use with ebooks.
I shall definitely carry on and read the second book in this series (typos or not).
Thank you Mr. Smil, for writing such an interesting, informative and enjoyable book!
Quite striking is his major thesis that the technological revolution before WWI was sui generis, a singularity in its own right. He explains how the technologies developed then are still very much with us and unlikely to be superceded anytime soon. This is a good antidote to the presentism of the Age of Information and AI enthusiasts. Unless you are already an engineer, you are likely to learn a lot about basic technologies we take for granted. IP lawyers may also find the various patent struggles of interest.