Human Motor: Energy, Fatigue, and the Origins of Modernity

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Science once had an unshakable faith in its ability to bring the forces of nature--even human nature--under control. In this wide-ranging book Anson Rabinbach examines how developments in physics, biology, medicine, psychology, politics, and art employed the metaphor of the working body as a human motor.
From nineteenth-century theories of thermodynamics and political economy to the twentieth-century ideals of Taylorism and Fordism, Rabinbach demonstrates how the utopian ...
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Overview


Science once had an unshakable faith in its ability to bring the forces of nature--even human nature--under control. In this wide-ranging book Anson Rabinbach examines how developments in physics, biology, medicine, psychology, politics, and art employed the metaphor of the working body as a human motor.
From nineteenth-century theories of thermodynamics and political economy to the twentieth-century ideals of Taylorism and Fordism, Rabinbach demonstrates how the utopian obsession with energy and fatigue shaped social thought across the ideological spectrum.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Drawing analogies from the 19th-century discovery of the laws of thermodynamics, European social scientists envisioned the toiling worker's body as a ``human motor,'' a living machine; maximizing work-force efficiency and eradicating the ``disease'' of fatigue seemed within reach. Psychologists and physiologists subjected the body's rhythms and movements to laboratory study. The psychiatric complaint of neurasthenia, or nervous exhaustion, was epidemic, and German scientists in the early 1900s sought a vaccine to cure fatigue. In a dense, rewarding study, Rabinbach ( The Crisis of Austrian Socialism ) shows how the ``science of work,'' spreading beyond such areas as industrial management, physical education and accident prevention, pervaded the language of technocrats, Marxists and fascists who viewed the worker as a machine. He pinpoints a source of modern spiritual malaise: the transformation from a strictly work-centered society to one in which work has been abandoned as a source of self-fulfillment. (Nov.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465031306
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 11/28/1990
  • Pages: 432

Meet the Author


Anson Rabinbach is Professor in the Department of the Council of the Humanities at Princeton University and author of The Crisis of Austrian Socialism (Chicago, 1983).
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