Consuming Power: A Social History of American Energies

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Overview

How did the United States become the world's largest consumer of energy? David Nye shows that this is less a question about the development of technology than it is a question about the development of culture. In Consuming Power Nye uses energy as a touchstone to examine the lives of ordinary people engaged in normal activities. He looks at how these activities changed as new energy systems were constructed, from colonial times to recent years. He also shows how, asAmericans incorporated new machines and processes into their lives, they became ensnared in power systems that were not easily changed: they made choices about the conduct of their lives, and those choices accumulated to produce a consuming culture.Nye examines a sequence of large systems that acquired and then lost technological momentum over the course of American history, including water power, steam power, electricity, the internal-combustion engine, atomic power, and computerization.

He shows how each system became part of a larger set of social constructions through its links to the home, the factory, and the city. The result is a social history of America as seen through the lens of energy consumption.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Despite the double-entendre in its title, this work focuses less on the history of America's consumption of energy than on its sheer consumption, conspicuous and incorrigible. Nye (American studies, Odense Univ., Denmark; American Technological Sublime, LJ 11/1/94) attempts to examine how the development of energy systems within America's unique culture, within a complex set of social constructions, caused the United States to become the "greatest power-consuming nation in history." His rambling and tentative work moves awkwardly from the painfully mundane, such as the type of shoes people wore, to the painfully abstruse: "Possessing a new way to move through the world creates tacit dynamic and perceptual knowledge, thus expanding the potential for experience." Lacking serious discussion of BTUs and horsepower, it is largely a hodgepodge of technology, commerce, and labor, a better treatment of which can be found in any standard history text. Not recommended.Robert C. Ballou, Atlanta
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262640381
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 2/26/1999
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 335,841
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

David E. Nye is Professor of American History at the University of Southern Denmark. The winner of the 2005 Leonardo da Vinci Medal of the Society for the History of Technology, he is the author of America's Assembly Line (MIT Press) and other books.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction 1
1 The Energies of Conquest 15
2 Water and Industry 43
3 Cities of Steam 71
4 Power Incorporated 103
5 Industrial Systems 131
6 Consumption and Dispersion 157
7 The High-Energy Economy 187
8 Energy Crisis and Transition 217
9 Choices 249
Notes 265
Index 325
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