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The Industrial Revolutionaries: The Making of the Modern World 1776-1914 Paperback – May 25, 2010
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The author of some fine business histories, including Signor Marconi’s Magic Box (2003), Weightman elevates his game in this work. Skeptical of theoretical explanations of the Industrial Revolution, he highlights entrepreneurs behind inventions symbolic of the world’s transformation from agrarianism to manufacturing. Beginning with innovators of iron smelting and winding up with the founders of the chemical industry, Weightman profiles the often-obsessed personalities whose technical advances made watching capitalists take notice and invest. His narrative of the iron story sets the tone: it depicts the man who introduced coke into the smelting process, which rendered previous methods obsolete, and whose effusion of business schemes earned him the sobriquet John “Iron Mad” Wilkinson. Indeed, eccentricity seems a common trait in Weightman’s cast of characters, which perhaps explains the persistence of a Robert Fulton, who failed for years until his steamboat succeeded, or the audacious claim of a painter to be the inventor of the telegraph. Integrating lively biography with technological clarity, Weightman converts the Industrial Revolution into an enjoyably readable period of history. --Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Abraham Gesner is hardly a household name today, but this country-doctor-turned-geologist in Nova Scotia was the first person to transform the raw sludge of fossil remains into kerosene and other fuels. Gesner is but one of the fascinating characters Gavin Weightman brings to life in The Industrial Revolutionaries, his engaging survey of the countless men and women who wedded technological innovation to capitalist profit or nationalist agenda, and in the process helped usher in the modern era. Weightman believes the industrial revolution was an incremental process in which credit for any innovation or invention rightly belongs to innumerable individuals scattered throughout the world. He is remarkably successful at capturing this process, skillfully stitching together thumbnail sketches of a large number of inventors, architects, engineers, and visionaries. Weightman expertly marshals his cast of characters across continents and centuries, forging a genuinely global history that brings the collaborative, if competitive, business of industrial innovation to life.” Stephen Mihm, The New York Times Book Review
Refreshingly old-fashioned . . . In this lively study, there is little room for the dry academic prose that so often makes economic histories a painful reading experience. Instead we have a wealth of vivid portraits of figures from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. . . . Weightman is excellent at demolishing some of the myths of the industrial revolution.” Leo McKinstry, Literary Review
The author of some fine business histories, Weightman elevates his game in this work. ... Integrating lively biography with technological clarity, Weightman converts the Industrial Revolution into an enjoyably readable period of history." Booklist
[Weightman’s] enthusiasm for his subjects, and his insistence that the Industrial Revolution was the doing of more than a handful of Great Men, propels the book forward. It's one that anyone with a passing interest in economic history will thoroughly enjoy.” The Seattle Times
It is one of the pleasures of Weightman’s book to see how technology rose above nationality. . . . The interconnectedness of this world of invention and technology is extraordinary.” The Sunday Telegraph
A whirlwind tour-de-force of the foundations of industrialization. a popular, accessible history. Highly recommended.” Choice
Swirling with seers, savants, and sorcerers of the mechanical age, every page of this epic saga will dazzle even the most technologically jaded reader.” William J. Bernstein, author of A Splendid Exchange
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Some of Weightman's characterizations and assessments are problematic, as when he calls Prince Albert gauche but then refers over and over to his meetings with and encouragement of eminent scientists and inventors, but these are minor flaws. The Industrial Revolutionaries is a well written and scholarly history of industrialization in Britain, Europe, America, and Japan and should be a prime resource for students of the period.
It's chock full of fascinating characters, some good, some bad, some unknown in their homelands yet cherished halfway around the world for the transformation they wrought, NTM the British 'roast-bifs' or 'navvies' in France who's energy shocked the upper classes as they built France's first RR's, and changed the French diet for the common working man.
The truly incredible stories of how Japan was transformed in part by a couple of five shipwrecked fishermen, followed by spies bent on preserving Japan's isolation but discovering that had become obviously impossible and too dangerous, compelling them to support Japan becoming a modern nation fully active in the world.
Critical industries often ignored, like petroleum are included, in part because their creation and transformation was in just 2-3 decades, as is the pneumatic bicycle rubber tire by a guy who'd never ridden one.
This is less about nations trying to keep up like France or Japan, though they're included, than people seeking advantage of their opportunities.
You may think you know the industrial revolution as I did, but I'm fairly sure you'll learn something new here.
This isn't to say there aren't errors, as other reviewers have noted; the price of the Louisiana Purchase is reported as 80 million dollars after it was previously mentioned as 80 million francs, though the correct US figure of $15 million is given in the book's summation [a quarter being the US assumption of French debts to US citizens] and actual payment was arranged by both a British and Dutch bank, who took the $3 million in gold plus the rest in US government bonds while paying cash to Napoleon who demanded cash immediately, though that story isn't in the book; but knowledgeable readers should spot other mistakes or typos fairly easily.
Overall, this a very human story that while some may seem too fantastic, ring true to the potential in all of us to change the world in some way for the better.
- Various patent disputes are described, but nowhere does the author give any account of how patent system came into existence.
- In some places, like during description of steam engines, a few diagrams would have made the subject much easier to grasp. Likewise, a few maps would have come handy in the chapter about the early railway lines.
- The chapter about Morse code is poorly written and is a way too long - and so anti-Morse.
- At the very end of the book, the author belittles the book "Guns, Germs and Steel" by Jared Diamond, as if the ideas promulgated in that book somehow negate the accomplishments of European inventors and entrepreneurs. I certainly don't think so. Diamond's book is about macro level of human civilization, while books like this deal with micro level of our civilization.
In some ways it is a return to an earlier way of considering the means by which the modern world developed, but supplemented with lots of local detail to illustrate the process at work and avoiding silly generalisations. We are not submerged in a mass of statistics or consideration of econometric models and the book does not suffer as a consequence of this fact. Rather, the emphasis is on the inventors, engineers and entrepreneurs whose actions helped to create our current world. Thus individual efforts, whether successful or otherwise, are pieced together so that we are able to put together the individual pieces into our own mental jigsaw, aided by the interconnected nature of much of the material; thus, after someone has invented a process often we are reliant on other people to introduce the process into use.