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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A classic history of the Industrial Revolution?, 8 Sept. 2011
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This review is from: The Industrial Revolutionaries: The Creation of the Modern World 1776-1914 (Paperback)
In the days when patents were vague and engineering drawing was so bad it was child's play, the only way technology could be transplanted was to entice the artisans abroad. So the author tells his history through short lives of the pioneers, and very entertaining it is too.

After about the Great Exhibition the author discerns a fundamental shift, where instead of a source of innovation (Britain) an archipelago of science and engineering produces innovation. He keeps with the biographical format, and follows various themes in the development of chemical, mechanical and electrical advances through the lives of the inventors. These lives were not easy. For every Bessemer or Nobel who made fortunes, there were a dozen who ended in the poor house.

Weightman is agreeably opinionated and avoids that awful historian's twitch "he she must have felt.." and gives a good kicking to some of his subjects, Watt, Morse and Edison in particular. His choice of people should not be questioned, perhaps, but some omissions are a bit odd. No mention of the man who allowed Brunel to build his bridges by inventing concrete? No mention of reinforced concrete (invented by a gardener; par for the course among this rogues' gallery)? The machine age needed machines to be repaired. Cue some standards so that parts (initially just nuts and bolts) could be exchanged: Joseph Whitworth gets a one line mention on another subject.

If you had Workshop of the World as a set text you may feel you know enough about the period. If you've slogged through the statistical tables of more academic texts you may feel you know more than enough. But this is an entertaining complement, good for the student and the amateur. The author has a knack for concise technical explanation which makes the limited illustrations superfluous.

Probably not a classic but highly recommended.
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