The Human Motor: Energy, Fatigue, and the Origins of Modernity

Anson Rabinbach, Author Basic Books $34.95 (402p) ISBN 978-0-465-03130-6
Drawing analogies from the 19th-century discovery of the laws of thermodynamics, European social scientists envisioned the toiling worker's body as a ``human motor,'' a living machine; maximizing work-force efficiency and eradicating the ``disease'' of fatigue seemed within reach. Psychologists and physiologists subjected the body's rhythms and movements to laboratory study. The psychiatric complaint of neurasthenia, or nervous exhaustion, was epidemic, and German scientists in the early 1900s sought a vaccine to cure fatigue. In a dense, rewarding study, Rabinbach ( The Crisis of Austrian Socialism ) shows how the ``science of work,'' spreading beyond such areas as industrial management, physical education and accident prevention, pervaded the language of technocrats, Marxists and fascists who viewed the worker as a machine. He pinpoints a source of modern spiritual malaise: the transformation from a strictly work-centered society to one in which work has been abandoned as a source of self-fulfillment. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 10/31/1990
Release date: 11/01/1990
Paperback - 432 pages - 978-0-520-07827-7
Portable Document Format (PDF) - 432 pages - 978-0-520-91254-0
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