This book surveys the history of vast areas of technological progress (chemicals, mining, agriculture, engines, trains, roads, weapons, printing, what have you), but in each area the information is on the level of a brief encyclopaedia article. Witness the section on "Bridges" (post-industrial revolution to 1900): it is only 9 pages, with the achievements of the Roeblings for example being summarized in 2/3 of a page; and, as with many other areas of inventions, it is very difficult to get, from this capsule treatment, any better than a vague notion of what the key innovations in question involved. One reason for this difficulty in my case is maybe my ignorance of certain terminology here and there, and the book nevertheless manages to explain the technology involved now and then, such as with the use of caissons in bridge-building. Yet too often there is no explanation. Or, when there is, too often it is perfunctory and sheds no light--on tunnel-making techniques for example: "One of the several modes of excavation was to protect the roof of the immediate working-area by timbers drawn forward from a space above the finished lining, their front ends being supported upon posts which rested on a short sill at the bottom of the heading." If you can easily understand what is going on from a description like that, then you will like this book better than I, who still only have the foggiest notion despite best efforts. Or take the example of the brief treatment of reinforced concrete (2 pages): The authors state briefly who did what when (includng numerous details of dates and places that seem to be of pedantic interest only), yet while mentioning such innovations as Mr. Wilkinson's "much more elaborate system of both for embedding iron rods . . . and for reinforcing concrete beams", or Mr. Hennibique's "system of vertical hoop-iron stirrups to resist change of shape by shearing", the book leaves one wondering, But just what ARE these things? As to the illustrations again, one of the editorial reviews says the book is loaded with illustrations, and it is, but they are all small and rather coarse and, like the book generally, they give you a sense more of the general shape and look of things, as opposed to how they actually worked. There are very few cutaways or other diagrammatic pictures in this book. With cars, for example, why can't we have just one simple diagram of an early internal combustion engine, instead of pics of frail carriage-like cars that we've already seen.
I suppose I'm just the wrong audience for this book--I got it as a casual reader who just wanted to know a little more about how certain famous contraptions actually worked (like the spinning jenny--incomprehensible from this book), or why exactly is Brunel considered a great genius, that sort of thing. This is not the book for questions like that. Maybe I could see a fan of James Burke's Connections or Day the Universe Changed looking up a book like this, to follow up, but, if so, the best one can get from this book is sort of a broad historical matrix, where you'd have to ply other sources of information to fill in all the gaps where the real interest lies. Or maybe one could sort of skim through the book for an uplifting, if vague, sense of Man's Progress. Apart from this, it's difficult to see this book appealing to people except as a reference work, combining in one place all the encyclopaedia info on the histories of printing, mining, textiles, etc. etc.