cover image Blood in the Machine: The Origins of the Rebellion Against Big Tech

Blood in the Machine: The Origins of the Rebellion Against Big Tech

Brian Merchant. Little, Brown, $30 (496p) ISBN 978-0-316-48774-0

Journalist Merchant (The One Device) offers a stirring account of the Luddites’ “messy rebellion” against new technological innovations in early-19th-century England. Merchant traces the narrative arcs of several groups, including the Luddites, skilled workers in the cloth industry whose lives were irreversibly overhauled by the arrival of new machinery (such as water-powered yarn-spinning machines and looms); the prominent cultural and literary figures, such as Lord Byron, who took an active interest in their grievances; and the factory owners who lived in fear of their nighttime attacks. The portrayal is one deeply sympathetic to the Luddite cause; Merchant is keen to deconstruct the modern, negative connotations of the term “Luddite,” emphasizing that they were driven to act not by some blinding, stubborn hatred of technology, as is often assumed, but rather by a deep understanding of its potential pitfalls and a distaste for the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a small number of privileged overseers. Merchant draws astute comparisons to technology’s disruptions of jobs and livelihoods in the 21st century, using the rise of Uber and AI as prominent examples. This is a significant contribution to the history of the Industrial Revolution and a strong warning against complacency in the face of technological change. (Sept.)