American Genesis: 2a Century of Invention and Technological Enthusiasm

Thomas P. Hughes, Author Viking Books $24.95 (528p) ISBN 978-0-670-81478-7
This potentially interesting yet turgidly written sociological study argues that the fertile era of technological innovation in America, which produced the electric light, the telephone, the automobile and the airplane, among other wonders, is better understood as a period of system building than of invention. A professor of the history and sociology of science at the University of Pennsylvania, Hughes begins by analyzing the careers of a dozen independent inventors, including Edison and the Wright Brothers as well as the less famous Lee De Forest and Edwin Armstrong (who vied for patents on the vacuum tube). He goes on to describe the gigantic systems their inventions generated, in the U.S., Europe and even the Soviet Union--the electric utilities, the gasoline-fueled automobile industry, broadcasting, aviation and the rest of the military-industrial complex. Hughes's extensive research has turned up a wealth of detail about the history of engineering and technology, but because he jumps back and forth between innovators and systems builders to work out his sociological theories (rather than choosing a few critical examples and then telling those stories in depth), the book seems destined more for sociologists than a general audience. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/01/1989
Release date: 04/01/1989
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