Rescuing Prometheus: The Story of the Mammoth Projects--Sage, Icbm, ARPAnet/Internet, and Boston's Ce Ntral Artery/Tunnel--That Created New

Thomas P. Hughes, Author
Thomas P. Hughes, Author Pantheon Books $28.5 (416p) ISBN 978-0-679-41151-2
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Hughes, whose American Genesis was a Pulitzer finalist, believes that between 1950 and 1970 the military/industrial/ university complex played a far more innovative and beneficial role than is generally acknowledged. In fact, the author likens America's ""technological transformations"" as a ""second creation; the first was mythologized in the book of Genesis."" He focuses on four massive cooperative ventures: The first, Semi-automatic Ground Environment (SAGE), a collaboration involving MIT and the U.S. military, built a computer- and radar-based air-defense system. Next, University of Pennsylvania professor emeritus and historian of science Hughes examines the Atlas project, which produced America's first ICBM; Boston's Central Artery/Tunnel Project, a traffic-unclogging system of highways, tunnels and bridges scheduled for completion in 2004; and the Defense Department-funded ARPANET, an interactive computer-based information network that paved the way for the Internet. In fact, this is not just about the evolution of contemporary technology; it's also about how complex coalitions of scientists, engineers, managers and others paved the way for changes in corporate management and development. Whether the culture of these very specialized projects could make the leap to the society at large seems debatable. But this detailed study highlights the underappreciated role of managerial prowess, rather than pure science or engineering, in determining the success of large-scale technological projects. Photos. Editor, Dan Frank. (Aug.)
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