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Inventing Accuracy: A Historical Sociology of Nuclear Missile Guidance (Inside Technology Series) Paperback – 10 Mar 1993

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Product details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: MIT Press; New edition edition (10 Mar. 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262631474
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262631471
  • Product Dimensions: 22.6 x 15.2 x 2.7 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 211,612 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Inventing Accuracy is a brilliant achievement that will, if we are fortunate, change widespread misunderstandings about technological innovation. The strength of this book lies not only in its extremely clear and nuanced theoretical statements, but also in its rich historical narrative. This book should be of great interest to a diverse audience. It also provides a creative, if extremely demanding, model for future scholarship on technology and national security. Lynn Eden, Survival "This is a great piece of sociology and a great book... gripping, superbly researched, fair, sympathetic, and ultimately, hopeful." Steven Shapin, American Journal of Sociology

About the Author

Donald MacKenzie is Professor of Sociology (Personal Chair) at the University of Edinburgh. His books include Inventing Accuracy (1990), Knowing Machines (1996), and Mechanizing Proof (2001), all published by the MIT Press. Portions of An Engine, not a Camera won the Viviana A. Zelizer Prize in economic sociology from the American Sociological Association.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 6 reviews
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Recommended for Targeteers by 7 Jan. 2000
By Reid Kirby - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is one of those very odd specialty books that always has you wondering who is the real audience.
The author has done an excellent job of researching the topic, and appears to be from the missile guidance community (or at least aerospace). His style is dry, but frank.
The book traces the US experience in missile guidance technology, then analyzes the sequence of RFP to field test to reveal the sociological dynamics of a technology.
For the information revolution, and a society that is becoming increasingly more technological, this book is an early example of what will likely be reproduced elsewhere for other technologies.
Throughout the book, the author debates what is accuracy. Traditionally, the Circular Error Probability (CEP) has been used, but some believe that a bias displaces the actual aiming point, and thus reduces the meaning of the CEP. Not addressed in this book is the debate concerning intelligence assets to support deep and strategic strikes, which accounts for many peoples belief in an accuracy bias. The author's bias arguement is along different lines than that used today, and is not well developed (the author argues against it).
The arguement being addressed is how credible is a nuclear deterent if systems are perfected to hit a test target on a Pacific island where all the navigational variables are known. This arguement is revisited by more recent books dealing with smart weapons; weapons which contractually meet their requirements to hit targets in arid Nevada, but appear incapable of doing likewise in a misty European battlefields.
The author does present an interesting sociological model that has a wide application: the certainty trough. This model implies that those with the greatest confidence in a technology are well informed on it, and between those that develop the technology, and those that know little about it.
While dealing only with strategic ballistic missiles, the author's approach to technological sociology is well worth reading and applying to current day arguements with other weapon systems.
14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Change Your Way of Thinking 26 Feb. 2003
By Spiritof67 - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is a hallmark book, and not solely to those interested in the history of ballistic missile guidance systems (though it would be difficult for others to discover). Mr. MacKenzie's real contribution is to examine how theories compete, contend and clash, and how the "intellectual community" finds and/or accepts them. A careful reading of the book, with only a modicum of knowledge of the subject, could change the way one thinks about every aspect of life.
I found it brilliant and revelatory, and I have recommended it to many people who sought to have their conceptual conciousness raised, as was mine.
One of the few scholarly journals this "academaholic" would ever recommend to a general (though well-read) audience.
Keep a copy around for some deserving late teen ager whose mind is in full bloom - you will find yourself rewarded.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
My sorties dropped into MOSR 48? What the heck does that mean and WHAT my missiles are doing?!? 30 Dec. 2014
By Joseph T. Page II - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There is a online video spread amongst new missile combat crew members at Vandenberg Air Force Base, explaining how the missile guidance system finds its target. "The missile knows where it is, by knowing where it isn't." Most missileers laugh the explanation off as a joke, but as you'll find in Donald MacKenzie's book, "Inventing Accuracy," that "joke" isn't too far off from the truth.

Keep in mind that the book is a historical sociology of guidance, so many areas and types of missile systems are covered. Simple systems within the German V-2, to the "floating ball thingy" with laser ring gyros from the MX Peacekeeper missile are talked about. TERCOM and GPS guided air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) are covered briefly, as taking cruise missiles over the poles tends to require a vastly different type of mapping and guidance.

As a researcher, I found this book was a boon for details. Thoroughly footnoted and end noted, I found more rabbit holes to run down with each page I turned. If you want to know the "how's" and "why's" to missile system guidance, this will give you the story-behind-the-story. If you want to know why your missiles went into "PIGA Leveling," the best you'll find in here is the definition of PIGA (Pendulous Integrating Gyroscopic Accelerometer), not the math or physics behind it.

Bottom line: if you're interested in a history of missile guidance, get the book. If you're a math geek, this ain't going to help you much (and there are other formula-laden books that will excite you).

FYI, missileers - for the PIGA leveling question, just trust your Technical Data in your Dash -22.
9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Highly recommended 16 Oct. 2005
By Fissile Missile Man - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book is a great single source on the issues surrounding ballistic missile guidance. A very important read for analysts of missile technology, especially in the context of proliferation.

Only issue I had was that this book is getting dated. It would be great to have more information on Russian missile guidance in light of newly available sources. Likewise, I am curious to know whether the decline in the importance of the ballistic missile and rise of GPS-enabled weapons (like the TacTom) has opened the 'black box' permanently and reduced the most precise INS systems (like the beryllium baby) to a historical curiosity.

But if you are interested in ballistic missiles, don't let those musings discourage you from purchasing this book. It is well worth the price and your time.

One other note: I was worried when I opened the book and saw the name Bruno Latour staring back at me in the acknowledgements - a sure sign that the book would be irrelevant. However, I was able to ignore a lot of the history of technology jargon, references, and context - that seemed tacked on anyway, no doubt at the bequest of his advisor and/or mentor. The last few chapters seemed the most tacked on of all and I felt were only worth skimming.

Some of this analysis was actually very important - understanding that enhanced accuracy is a political and technological question, as well as the preferences of the corporations and labs involved, is very useful for evaluating proliferation trends.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
One of the Best Books on Research and Development in General 21 Aug. 2013
By D. Chapman - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
While this book is mainly about ICBM guidance systems, the procedures and political battles which are described will be familiar to anyone who has worked on a large technology project.

The most interesting parts of the book revolve around how the Navy submarine missile program changed from a "survivable, non-threatening deterrent force" into a first-strike system which actually provides less warning than land-based ICBMs.

I was recently watching a TV history of the moon landings, and they had a section about the inertial guidance system used in the Apollo program, compete with gyroscope cages spinning around. It was quite odd to see the TV version of this book.

Highly recommended.
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