cover image The Axemaker's Gift

The Axemaker's Gift

James Lee Burke. Putnam Adult, $27.95 (348pp) ISBN 978-0-399-14088-4

Prolific psychologist Ornstein and historian Burke, best known for his PBS-TV series Connections, have written an ambitious, entertaining, not always convincing survey of the interaction of technology, culture, history and the human mind. Early hominids' use of tools, they maintain, altered the brain's structure over millennia, favoring reason over emotion and fostering sequential thinking, which generated language, logic and rules. With the advent of agriculture and writing in Mesopotamia came social hierarchy. The authors strain mightily to prove that successive advances in technic--the Greek alphabet, the weight-driven clock, Gutenberg's printing press, scientific method, London's stock exchange, modern clinical medicine, computers, etc.--radically altered the structure of society, increasingly concentrating power and knowledge in the hands of a specialized ruling elite that imposed ever greater degrees of conformity on the masses. A ``cut-and-control'' outlook that divides the world into manipulable units is held responsible for our present ecological crisis. The authors' proposed solution is a world of small communities with participatory democracy and ``webbed education'' whereby information-technology users can access all knowledge as a dynamic whole. (Sept.)