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on 28 August 2016
Many many years ago, when I first started reading about the Second World War in the East, I came across the surprising statistic that for the German Army the most important technology was not the tank, but the horse. Millions of horses provided the basic motive power for the Wehrmacht, even as tanks broke down and froze in the terrible cold. In other words, far from replacing the horse, the tank was a subordinate partner until the very end of the war, when, at least in the West, large numbers of transport vehicles were available for the first time.

David Egerton's book is at one level a useful corrective to the idea that technological changes take place quickly and completely, and so strikes a blow against the worship of so-called "innovation" which these days just seems to be away of making a quick fortune out of some technological novelty or other. What Egerton demonstrates is that technologies do not simply replace each other but exist alongside each other for long periods of time. A classic would be the bicycle which ought to have been replaced generations ago by the car, but in fact flourishes and in many cases is making a comeback. But in turn, this is because the technology of the bicycle as dramatically improved, and compared to the heavy awkward machines of my youth, today's are much more sophisticated and way almost nothing. This book will substantially change how you see the application of technology to daily life, and how far you are convinced by the endless rhetoric and ideology of "innovation". The conclusion, I think, is that most of us do not particularly want innovation, so much as wanting technology that is reliable and actually works.
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on 18 February 2010
This book makes important points about our love affair with technology and in doing so makes the conventional wisdom look clapped out. Our innovation fetish makes us unhealthily dependent upon novelty - instead we should carefully consider how to productively wield technology, both old and new. As such I disagree with other reviewers - the thesis is clear: focus on results rather than look for answers in the technology itself. Technical fixes cannot solve human problems.

The book points out the importance of maintenance and smart reuse of existing technology. Poorer people well know this - for example I saw African roads chock full of decrepit vehicles that are daily tended by skilled street mechanics to prolong their working lives. This emphasis on maintenance and reuse dampens the hype surrounding my professional role of developing I.T. systems. For example in Web development the latest fashion is to move beyond the single browser window by web-enabling traditional multi-window applications. This begs the question: if we really needed to stick with the more complex user interface of traditional applications then why did we reject them in in the first place? It is essential that we clarify our aims if we are to disperse the innovation smokescreen.

Technology persists longer than the prevailing wisdom would have us believe. The author cites many examples including that conventional weapons, even in the most recent wars, kill more people than do modern weapons such as nuclear or 'smart' bombs. Take the readily available Kalashnikov: an (admittedly grim) emblem of the book's theme. It is simple to manufacture and maintain, and its rugged robustness wins out over shinier guns that are superior in showroom conditions. In other words it is both readily available and can be relied upon to get the job done.
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on 12 March 2017
The idea behind the book is interesting. It's just really difficult to get more than a few pages into the book because the author's leftish taste spills into the analisys, for instance he writes about the (NASA) space programme that its only purpose beyond spin-offs was "providing entertainment, propaganda and a welcome distraction from more pressing and tedious problems". I guess Shakespeare and Einstein are also quite worthless when you evaluate their work from this "if it doesn't output bread to the poor then it is no good" standpoint.
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on 16 December 2014
I was disappointed. I grasped the point in the author's book about Britain's WW2 war machine straight away but as I read through this, I could not see a big outcome. True, he repeatedly makes the highly important point about reliance on old technologies rather than just the new stuff but...so what? Don't we know that? My bicycle is old-technology, my I-Pad newer. Once he has made the point that society uses both old and new stuff, where do I go from there as his sympathetic reader? I found the numerous examples quoted to become a bit boring in the end.
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on 29 December 2008
This book has been sitting on my desk for some weeks. I finished it a while ago, but wasn't sure how to review it, because I'm not sure exactly what the author's thesis is. The sub-title, 'Technology and Global History since 1900' accurate sums up the content, but it is almost an alternative history brought about by making a clear seperation between technology and innovation.

Given this seperation, the book points out that virtually all the innovations of the last century are based on technology dating back to the start of the last century. It's a neat idea, well researched and backed up. At that level it's a good read and a new perspective on technology and innovation. At the end of the day, though, the author doesn't really draw out any conclusions from his work, leaving the reader feeling frustrated and wondering what was in the author's mind.
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on 6 January 2012
Although I read this book a little while ago, my overall impression was not that the author took a line like the (also British) philosopher, John Gray, that most assumptions of historical progress in technology are illusory and vain. David Edgerton's book leans toward the scholarly, and draws attention to the persistence of 'old' technologies, despite, for example, the better-publicised 'new' technologies such as genetic engineering or computer software.
The U.S. is actually marked out as one country where there is very significant recent technical innovation, whereas elsewhere the emphasis is still ostly on developing well-established technology. So it isn't just a British author thumbing his nose at the States!
The point about the Germans using large numbers of horse in WW2 is not that they successfully invaded Russia using them, but the paradox of an industrialised nation, with the use of railways (also 'old-tech' by the 1940s), motor-vehicles and aircraft still employing an army of pack-animals at a time of mechanised warfare.
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on 25 June 2017
seemed to lose its way in a few places
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on 28 December 2013
Great book! Really opens ones eyes as it gives fresh look on technology and how we deal with it, what we use and so on. If you are interested on how our society works this is a definitely one of the must reads.
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on 27 July 2016
Puts perspective back into technology hype. Well written and worth reading.
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on 31 August 2009
the ideas in this book could be written on page 1 - the rest is padding. good marketing! if you want to waste 6.99 buy - otherwise don't bother.
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