Short Reviews by Reed Konsler



The Day The Universe Changed

by James Burke

Both these books combine history with a description of the impact of technology on society/culture. The Day the Universe Changed analyzes these topics by investigating the origins of several common but significant technological advances; computers, atomic weapons, the printing press. His thesis is that these inventions literally "changed the universe" it that they completely changed how people though about the world. Very significant if combined with the concept of memetics

If you're interested in finding out what Burke thinks about things you can search for him in the WWW. There are usually several interviews and papers to be found in order to give you a taste of his thinking and rhetorical style. I consider Burke as inspiring an author in terms of the aplicability and breadth of his ideas as Dawkins. If you've read The Extendeded Phenotype then TDTUC is a must. The synthesis of the two is dizzying in it's elegance and power in explaining trends in society.

The Printing Press as an Agent of Change

by Elizabeth Eisenstein

A rigorous historical treatment of the effect of printing on religious, scientific, and political thought in Europe. Her thesis is that many of the debates concerning the seeds of the "modern" era (the reformation, the scietific revolution, etc.) can be traced to the effect of text on the thinkers of the era.

This book is especially relevant since we sit at the brink of a communications revolution (the net) as, if not more, significant. Eisenstein's thesis is that the advent of text actually changed the way people thought and were able to think. Her work resonates well with a lot of what you see in the current clips and forwards. It provides good perspective.

To Engineer is Human

by Henry Petroski

His first book, and it my opinion the best, describing the thought process of engineering as they might apply to "real life". It is a good step toward a rational model of behavior.

The Making of the Atomic Bomb

by Richard Rhodes

A masterpiece. This narrative weaves science, technology, engineering, culture, and politics into a panorama that forcefully demonstrates the dramatic effect of technology on the way people think. It's a good read, too. Rhodes second book: Dark Sun is more oriented towards the politics of the Hydrogen Bomb and less interesting, in my opinion, than the first...but still good.

The Prize

by Daniel Yergin

A modern history of the petroleum industry and the profound influence of oil on what he describes as "hydrocarbon man" (that is, us) from the inception of the industry to the Gulf War. The world might start communicating electronically, but it still runs on oil. That fact of existence can be used to rationalize a lot of history and current events.

Memes Virus