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Why Things Bite Back: Predicting the Problems of Progress Paperback – 3 Apr 1997

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate; New edition edition (3 April 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1857025946
  • ISBN-13: 978-1857025941
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 13 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,270,857 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

‘A joyous celebration of the ways in which the world is a more complex place that we realise’
The Financial Times

‘By rights it should become a classic text about problem-solving’
Irish Times

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Edward Tenner was executive editor for science at Princeton University Press. He has taught at Princeton and conducted research at the Institute for Advanced Studies. He is the author of Tech-Speak, a send-up of techno-babble.


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First Sentence
One of industrial and postindustrial humanity's parennial nightmares is the machine that passes from stubbornness to rebellion. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 28 Jun. 1997
Format: Hardcover
Why is it that any step forward seems to be followed by three steps back ?
This guy knows, he also knows why:

* Bigger roads lead to more traffic jams

* New "cheaper" technique for gallbladder operations actually increased
the expenditures (more operations performed).

* Introduction of PC's in the office did not actually lead to an overall
productivity increase.

* Mandatory use of gloves in professional boxing actually multiplied
cumulative, chronic damage.

Covering a broad variety of subjects like antibiotics, killer bees, DDT,
computers and zebra mussels.

Exceptionally well researched, did you know for example that good old Murphy
was a captain at Edwards Air Force Base ? or that during the American War of
Independence, 75% of American troops treated in hospitals did not survive
(disease, often not related to wounds caused nine out of ten casualties) ?

In his mission, the author occasionally (well, no make that often) loses the
concept of common sense: any flaw in any invention or technological advance
is made to be bigger than life. Something along the line of: since
airconditioning equipment raises the temperature outside, the net effect is
zero, duh.

If more thinkers like this man would be around, we certainly wouldn't use
cars, hospitals or pain killers and certainly would not want kids.

Notwithstanding the pessimistic tone, this definitely gives you something to
ponder.
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Format: Paperback
I can't recall reading another book on technology that was as well-balanced as this is. For this reason alone, Why Things Bite Back is good reading.
But Tenner achieves much more than balance. He identifies useful categories, like revenge effects and reverse revenge effects. Within the former, Tenner identifies repeating effects (e.g., doing the same thing more often rather than gaining free time, as happened with time-saving devices like home clothes washers and dryers when we quit taking as many clothes to the laundry), recomplicating effects (e.g., being expected to remember more numbers as we go from rotary to push button telephone "dialing"), regenerating effects (e.g., Patriot missles breaking up Scuds into multiple, smaller projectiles), and recongesting effects (e.g., the transformation of apparently limitless electromagnetic bandwidth to congested, largely filled bandwidth).
Whew! When reading this, I wondered how Tenner would later use these categories, which he introduced at the beginning of the book. Well, he does return to them and, in doing so, seems to be taking a first pass at crafting a useful nomenclature.
My main problem with the book is that Tenner presses some of the arguments too hard, such as the perceived link between defeating TB and facilitating AIDS. I was disappointed to see this argument pop up again 260 pages after its first mention--this time in the book's conclusion.
Tenner concludes that we can best manage revenge effects by retreating from intensity through three means: diversification, dematerialization, and finesse. Tenner provides numerous examples of each strategy, such as fostering diversity in plant species, substituting brains for stuff, and allowing a fever to play its role in fighting infection.
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By A Customer on 26 Mar. 1998
Format: Hardcover
This is a whole book built around a single premise, that once the simple problems have been solved the problems that remain are more difficult. This point is mode over and over again using medical, ecological, technical and social examples. In fact there are so many examples that after a while they all seem to merge into each other. You can only hammer a nail in so far, Mr Tenner.
Personally I would have liked to have seen slightly fewer examples examined in more depth but you cartainly can't complain about the choice.
Another problem with the book is that it is written with 20-20 hindsight. So many times whilst reading it I was tempted to say, "Well OK, given the limitations of knowledge and funds available to the protagonists in the examples, what would you have done instead?"
Despite all the examples the book is a little short on alternatives and solutions and that, perhaps, is its main failing. Nevertheless, it is still a good book and one I would be happy to recommend.
(c) Vince O'Sullivan.
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Format: Hardcover
Edward Tenner, author of Why things bite back: Technology
and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences, weaves an
interesting set of stories involving technology to show
that because of its unintended consequences technology
can "bite back." The subjects Tenner covers are based
upon topics in medicine, the environment, animal and
vegetable pests, the computerization of the workplace
and the area of sports. Tenner uses these areas to point
out that technology in many cases has led to unintended
consequences. I think that Edward Tenner has the ability
to make strong connections in his examples. His topics,
that range from medicine to sports, are not meant to
frighten the average reader with jargon from those fields.
His ability to capture my attention early and his ease
of reading, I believe, makes this the perfect gift for
this season.
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