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The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History Since 1900

1 rating: 3.0
2006 non-fiction book by David Edgerton

DescriptionFrom the books of H.G. Wells to the press releases of NASA, we are awash in cliched claims about technology and history, writes David Edgerton. Now, in The Shock of the Old , Edgerton offers a startling new and fresh way of thinking about … see full wiki

Author: David Edgarton
Genre: 21st Century
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
1 review about The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global...

A radically different view of the history of technology.

  • Dec 2, 2008
  • by
Every day each one of us is bombarded by commercial messages touting the latest and greatest products.  You can now purchase a self-cleaning hot tub or a cell phone that can store and play thousands of songs.  But just how much useful innovation is really taking place in the opening decade of the 21st Century?  In "The Shock of The Old: Technology and Global History Since 1900" author David Edgerton offers the somewhat controversial proposition that in spite of all of the hype what is happening today really is not all that innovative after all.  Rather, Edgerton argues "judging from the present, the past looks extraordinarily innovative."  The interesting arguments made by Edgerton are certainly worth exploring.

Whether discussing innovations in military technology, transportation, pharmaceuticals or consumer products, David Edgerton wants to find out not only how useful these technologies really are but also how much they are actually used.  Although Edgerton's writing style proves to be less than scintillating, his idea is certainly a fascinating one.  For example, Edgerton argues rather effectively that rockets and the atomic bomb are two of the most overrated technologies in military history.  The fact of the matter is that much older technologies such as airplanes, the rifle and heavy artillery remain to this day the most prolific tools of war.  Indeed, Edgerton even goes so far as to suggest that had the United States directed more of its resources to traditional weapons like these instead of the atomic bomb then World War II might have actually been concluded much sooner.  And while the German V-2 rocket was capable of delivering a one ton warhead to a target some 200 miles away it was certainly not very cost effective.  In fact, Edgerton quotes Michael Neufield who has written extensively about the V-2 project that "more people died producing it than died from being hit by it." It is apparent to the author that many of these highly touted new technologies were vastly overrated by those in charge on both sides in World War II.

Throughout "The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History Since 1900" David Edgerton argues that the most innovative times in history were around the turn of the century and during the years between the great World Wars.  He cites example after example of how technologies developed during these periods continue to play a key role in the lives of people all over the world, particularly those in poorer nations.  He takes a look at a variety of industries including shipping, meat-packing and automobiles.  He also warns those who are counting on future breakthroughs to solve all manner of problems such as energy, health concerns and global warming to think again.
I found "The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History Since 1900" to be a bit tedious at times and somewhat repetitive. Perhaps this is due to the complexity of the subject matter.  Nevertheless, it is a book that offers much food for thought.  This is a scholarly work that deserves your consideration.

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