Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Men, Machines, and Modern Times Paperback – March 15, 1968
|New from||Used from|
Frequently Bought Together
Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought
It is the most brilliant, original, and absorbing book in American history I have read for some time.(Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.)
About the Author
Top Customer Reviews
This slender volume is actually a series of lectures given between 1950 and 1966 at Cal Tech and was influenced by a 15 year process of dialogue in a regular monthly meeting on the subject of technology and society. It reflects the insights and wisdom of a lifetime of thought about people and technology.
For those who care about transforming military institutions the chapters on Lieutenant Sims' reform of naval gunnery in 1900 and on the building of the best steam warship in the world in 1868 are marvels of bureaucracy confronting technology.
Consider just a few insights from Morison:
"It is possible, if one sets aside the long-run social benefits, to look upon invention as a hostile act--a dislocation of existing schemes, a way of disturbing the comfortable bourgeois routines and calculations, a means of discharging the restlessness with arrangements and standards that arbitrarily limit." (p.9)
When Sims reports remarkable success with a new system of gunnery he has learned from an innovative British officer ((Percy Scott) there are three stages of response from Washington:
"At first there was no response. The reports were simply filed away and forgotten. Some indeed, it was later discovered to Sims's delight, were half eaten away by cockroaches,
"Second stage; It is never pleasant for any man's best work to be left unnoticed by superiors and it was an unpleasantness that Sims suffered extremely ill.
"Besides altering his tone, he took another step to be sure his views would receive attention, He sent copies of his reports to other officers in the fleet. Aware as a result that Sims's gunnery claims were being circulated and talked about, the men in Washington were then stirred to action. "p29
The response was first that our ships were as good as the British so the problem was with the men and that meant the officers were not doing their job. "most significant: continuous-aim fire was impossible. Experiments had revealed that five men at work on the elevating gear of a six-inch gun could not produce the power necessary to compensate for a roll of five degrees in ten seconds. These experiments and calculations demonstrated beyond peradventure or doubts that Scott's system of gunfire was not possible." p. 30, note this is about a system that was actually being used with amazingly more accurate results. Sims' reform was not a theory it was an existing fact, which the Navy simply denied.
As Morison notes "Only one difficulty is discoverable in these arguments: they were wrong at important points."
"In every way I find this second stage, the apparent resort to reason, the most entertaining and instructive in our investigation of the responses to innovation." p. 30
"Third stage: the rational period in the counterpoint between Sims and the Washington men was soon passed. It was followed by the third stage, that of name calling." p.30
As things got worse Simms took the ultimate risk "he, a lieutenant, took the extraordinary step of writing the President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, to inform him of the remarkable record of Scoot's ships, of the inadequacy of our own gunnery routines and records, and of the refusal of the Navy Department to act. Roosevelt, who always liked to respond to such appeals when he could, brought Sims back from China late in 1902 and installed him as Inspector of Target Practice, a post the naval officer held throughout the remaining six years of the Administration. And when he left, after many spirited encounters we cannot here investigate, he was universally acclaimed as 'the man who taught us how to shoot." p.31
Morison concludes "the deadlock between those who sought change and those who sought to retain things as they were was broken only by an appeal to superior force, a force removed from and unidentified with the mores, conventions, devices of the society. This seems to me a very important point; the naval society in 1900 broke down in its effort to accommodate itself to a new situation. The appeal to Roosevelt is documentation for Mahan's great generalisation that no military service should or can undertake to reform itself. It must seek assistance from outside. " p.38
Whatever field of change interests you this is a book well worth reading and thinking about.
If you are interested in innovation I believe you do yourself a disservice by dismissing this book because of its age. The essays in Men, Machines, and Modern Times are eerily relevant to today and anyone interested in transforming their organization, whether it be a business, government, education system, military, or any other entity would be extremely well served by reading this book. I would also suggest coupling it with a book titled The Myths of Innovation by Mr. Scott Berkun.
Below is a small sampling of items I found intriguing in Men, Machines, and Modern Times...
* First, it is easier to make a regulation than to abolish it. (pg 53)
* Second, it is easier to conform to a regulation, even when it is inappropriate to do so, than it is to seek a sensible exception. (pg. 54)
* Regulations tend to multiply (pg. 58)
* In order to make the pattern work, one seeks to eliminate every uncertainty and variable that might disturb the scheme. So the tendency in every regulating body is to reach out and extend rules over the whole range of human activity. That is why questionnaires get longer and the set of regulation more detailed. That is also why red tape has its unpleasant connotations. (pg. 58-59)
* It mattered not that in thirty years planes had increased their potential and radar had been invented. The conditioned reflexes and unhappy memories of the previous experiment interfered with the cool and wholly rational calculations of present possibilities. (pg 73)
* To live safely in our society, let alone manage it, will require a continuous education until a man dies. (pg 85)
The events depicted in the book tell of an age where the industrial revolution was nacent and men brimmed with ideas on how to construct and create a new society for mankind. A fine read for anyone interested in the art of technology and of engineering history in the U.S.