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Fruits Of War: How Military Conflict Accelerates Technology Paperback – 4 Jun 2007
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Since man first wielded a stick in anger, war and conflict have been prime movers in the progress of science and technology. In our earliest days the impetus may have been as simple as protecting territory or a food supply; more recently science has benefited from massive injections of cash when national security is at stake. But as Michael White demonstrates in this superbly wide-ranging and brilliant history of innovation, almost all major technological developments can be traced back to times of war. From the arrow to nuclear power; from cuneiform to the credit card; from the chariot to the bullet train and from the tribal drum to the Internet, our creativity owes much to the destructiveness of our nature. Accessible, thought-provoking and chock-full of fascinating facts, THE FRUITS OF WAR is a superb history of science and innovation that shows how the best of humanity often flows from its worst.
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The examples and anecdotes are spread like rapidfire in this book, but coherency suffers. At points sloppiness creeps in. Mr White for instance states the Romans could keep their large empire together, because they were the first to build an extensive road network. But the Persians did so before them, and ten centuries later the Mongols would conquer an even larger empire without a road network.
In all, this book scores high on style and accessibility, but low on giving systematic evidence of its central thesis.
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In Fruits of War, White presents the argument to support his contention that many of our everyday items and inventions have been greatly influenced and inspired by conflicts, military needs, and weapons development. He is not advocating conflict, but argues that, from time immemorial, aggression has been a natural part of the human psyche--socially, geographically, ecologically, and physically--and that from progressions in conflict have come advancements in technology that we appreciate every day even if we did not know how they were developed.
White's book is divided into seven easy-to-understand sections that follow the stages of development of specific inventions over time, from conflict to peace time. These include: (1) From the Gods to the Laser Scalpel; (2) From the Arrow to Nuclear Power; (3) From the Cuneiform to the Credit Card; (4) From the Chariot to the Bullet Train; (5) From the Balloon to the Space Shuttle; (6) From the Trireme to the Ocean Liner; and (7) From the Tribal Drum to the Internet. Each fascinating section contains several chapters, tracing the pathway of each invention, detailing inventors, their inspiration, and peace time uses of items once specifically designed for conflict.
White maintains that "our aggression is linked inextricably ... with human creative energy." The acceleration of technology has developed through random occurrence in battle or conflict, through research or commercial impetus, to an end result in which it is widely accepted and further modified by the military, only later to find its way into civilian life. He maintains that if the military had not initially poured inordinate amounts of funds into an idea, it may have stagnated and never have been developed--or it would have taken much longer to come to fruition. For example, defense research achievements, across many countries, have been largely responsible for our increased understanding of a diverse range and cross-fertilization of disciplines, such as human psychology, materials technology, surveillance technology, radar, satellite communications, weather monitoring systems, fibre optics, laser technology, cybernetics, and advanced fuel and transportation systems. "Good as well as evil may flow from the darkest recesses of the human soul," White concludes.
In reading from conception to development to implementation to modification, the reader receives a greater understanding of human and conflict development. In addition, there comes the realization that the human brain is inventive, creative, and adaptive, but more so comes the awareness that almost no idea is impossible, it just might take time to develop.
Perhaps for the best, but in an undramatic fashion, Fruits of War turned out to be a simple explanation of several different subjects that were 'accelerated' by war. Typically this effect was caused by rivalry between nation states, or even a requirement of warring states to keep up with each other technologically or face defeat. White also cynically points out that many medical advancements have been made facing the mass amount of injury and horror of wartime battlefields.
The three star rating is awarded due to the fact White seems to merely provide historical (factual I assume) summary of a variety of innovations throughout history, which is somewhat interesting, however does not build a coherent argument throughout. The final chapter simply putting out there that war is one of the ways technology advances. NOT that I particularly wanted to hear any war justifications, just I expected a stronger argument.