- Hardcover: 372 pages
- Publisher: Pantheon; 1 edition (July 21, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679411518
- ISBN-13: 978-0679411512
- Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 1.5 x 9.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,465,306 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Thomas Hughes takes an in-depth look at four giant technological projects of the post-World War II era. He paints a portrait of the evolving organizational structures and ever-improving management styles that have enabled engineer managers and their teams to accomplish the near-impossible. The four projects are the Semiautomatic Ground Environment (SAGE) air defense project, the Atlas Intercontinental Ballistic Missile project, the development of ARPANET/Internet, and the construction of Boston's Central Artery/Tunnel. Each of these undertakings broke new ground, requiring new techniques to overcome daunting obstacles and foster interdisciplinary cooperation.
As a study in management, the book begins its coverage of managerial evolution with the development of systems engineering. Systems engineering reduced much of management to scientific principles and was critical to the successful interaction that created SAGE. However, later projects proved that the strict science of systems engineering failed when the system to be engineered included a large human element. Hughes shows how a flattening of the management structure and the enhanced use of diverse teams enables the continuing Boston Central Artery/Tunnel project to proceed. Not only does that plan allow for the wide diversity of human interaction but it embraces it. Project management relies on continuing input from all facets of Boston's social and political scene to shape the project as it develops.
Hughes celebrates the role that idealism, as well as creativity, has often played in technological achievements. In today's sociopolitical environment, when many people look upon military-based research and development with a jaundiced eye, it's easy to forget that such projects as SAGE and the Atlas missile were driven by an idealistic belief in the need to protect our society from what was then perceived as a clear danger from a declared enemy.
Hughes's step-by-step examination of how each project team met its challenges is both thought-provoking and insightful. If the Dilbert's-eye view of technology and management has become a bit too depressing, here's a book that reminds us that we are capable of anything. --Elizabeth Lewis
From Publishers Weekly
Hughes, whose American Genesis was a Pulitzer finalist, believes that between 1950 and 1970 the military/industrial/ university complex played a far more innovative and beneficial role than is generally acknowledged. In fact, the author likens America's "technological transformations" as a "second creation; the first was mythologized in the book of Genesis." He focuses on four massive cooperative ventures: The first, Semi-automatic Ground Environment (SAGE), a collaboration involving MIT and the U.S. military, built a computer- and radar-based air-defense system. Next, University of Pennsylvania professor emeritus and historian of science Hughes examines the Atlas project, which produced America's first ICBM; Boston's Central Artery/Tunnel Project, a traffic-unclogging system of highways, tunnels and bridges scheduled for completion in 2004; and the Defense Department-funded ARPANET, an interactive computer-based information network that paved the way for the Internet. In fact, this is not just about the evolution of contemporary technology; it's also about how complex coalitions of scientists, engineers, managers and others paved the way for changes in corporate management and development. Whether the culture of these very specialized projects could make the leap to the society at large seems debatable. But this detailed study highlights the underappreciated role of managerial prowess, rather than pure science or engineering, in determining the success of large-scale technological projects. Photos. Editor, Dan Frank.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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If you need this grounding, this is an excellent book. I think it's rating depends on what you want from the book. For example, I have read hundreds of books on the begining of the Arpanet. This book goes 10 years earlier and tells the story that is never told. Is that helpful? Of course it is.
The best popular science/history hybrids bring you a sense of the excitement of the technological advance, a new knowledge of the problems faced and solutions found, and an insight into the characters and personalities behind the science. Hughes doesn't really do any of this. The book is extremely dry and reads like a laundry list of facts rather than a compelling narrative. None of the characters ever come alive. And for the most part, I didn't feel he did a very good job presenting the technological challenges faced. I think he perhaps tried to do too much with the book, telling four stories instead of one or two in the depth required to really draw the reader in.
I really wanted to like this book, especially as a former worker in operations research/systems analysis. But unfortunately, Hughes doesn't deliver on the promise that the subject has.