Beyond Engineering: How Society Shapes Technology / Edition 1

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Every now and then a book comes along with the power to reshape completely how people think about a subject, to teach them to see it in a way that is novel yet simultaneously so natural that they wonder how they ever could have missed it. Beyond Engineering by Robert Pool is such a book. The traditional view of technology is that it is the product of engineers and inventors, developed in a rational fashion according to arcane scientific principles that are best left to the techo-nerds. But if you look closely enough at the history of any invention, Pool says, you will find that factors unrelated to engineering have an equal and sometimes greater power. In his wide-ranging volume, he traces developments in nuclear energy, automobiles, light bulbs, commercial electricity, and personal computers, among others, to show how historical, political, cultural, organizational, economic, and psychological factors all influence the path a technology takes. Pool demonstrates how seemingly minor decisions made early in the process of technological development can have profound consequences further down the road, and, perhaps most important, he shows how the increasing complexity of modern technology makes it qualitatively different from technology of the past. That complexity creates uncertainty, making it impossible for engineers to predict exactly how well a technology will perform or to foresee all the things that can go wrong, thus making nontechnical factors all the more important. Citing such catastrophes as Bhopal, Three Mile Island, the Exxon Valdez, the Challenger, and Chernobyl, he argues that we can no longer afford to think of technology exclusively in engineering terms but must takeinto account non-engineering influences as well. Whether discussing bovine growth hormone, molten-salt reactors, or baboon-to-human transplants, Beyond Engineering is an engaging look at modern technology and an illuminating account of how technology and the modern world shape each o
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Editorial Reviews

Reversing the usual studies of how technological innovation impacts society, Pool examines how technological change is shaped by non- scientific factors. Among his examples are nuclear energy, light bulbs, commercial electricity, personal computers, and how the technologically superior steam-powered car lost out to the internal- combustion care because of a lack of business acumen and an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
From the Publisher
"It's a truism that technology has driven modern history. In this wise, insightful book, Robert Pool explores the deeper truth that history shapes technology."—Richard Rhodes, author The Making of the Atomic Bomb.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195107722
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 7/17/1997
  • Series: Sloan Technology Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 368
  • Lexile: 1300L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.21 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Pool writes for Discover and New Scientist and is author of Eves Rib. He lives in Arlington, Virginia.

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Table of Contents

Preface to the Sloan Technology Series
Introduction: Understanding Technology 3
1 History and Momentum 17
2 The Power of Ideas 53
3 Business 85
4 Complexity 119
5 Choices 149
6 Risk 177
7 Control 215
8 Managing the Faustian Bargain 249
9 Technical Fixes, Technological Solutions 279
Notes 307
Index 349
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