Men, Machines, and Modern Times, though ultimately concerned with a positive alternative to an Orwellian , offers an entertaining series of historical accounts taken from the nineteenth century to highlight a main theme the nature of technological change, the fission brought about in society by such change, and society s reaction to that change Beginning with a remarkable illustration of resistance to innovation in the US Navy following an officer s discovery of a accurate way to fire a gun at sea, Elting Morison goes on to narrate the strange history of the new model steamship, the Wapanoag, in the s He then continues with the difficulties confronting the introduction of the pasteurization process for milk he traces the development of the Bessemer process and finally, he considers the computer While the discussions are liberally sprinkled with amusing examples and anecdotes, all are related to the profound and current problem of how to organize and manage system of ideas, energies, and machinery so that it will conform to the human dimension


10 thoughts on “Men, Machines, and Modern Times

  1. George Siehl George Siehl says:

    What a wonderful book It is easy to see why it played such a central role in Brandy Schillace s Clockwork Futures, an examination of the science behind steampunk Author Morison was a historian at MIT where he followed issues relating to technology and society This book was first published in 1966, followed by a 50th anniversary edition paperback from MIT in 2016 The latter does have a foreword and some introductory remarks that are informative, but the small format of the book is too cramp What a wonderful book It is easy to see why it played such a central role in Brandy Schillace s Clockwork Futures, an examination of the science behind steampunk Author Morison was a historian at MIT where he followed issues relating to technology and society This book was first published in 1966, followed by a 50th anniversary edition paperback from MIT in 2016 The latter does have a foreword and some introductory remarks that are informative, but the small format of the book is too cramped for the large subject matter.Morison is a story teller hiding behind an essay writer He is informative, entertaining, and a master exemplar of the writing craft His areas of interest included the military, and two of the essays here are based on 19th Century naval technology examples of how change is often viewed as a threat to the societies where that change is introduced The first essay, Gunfire at Sea, tells of Navy Lieutenant William S Sims and his learning from a British officer a technique for improvedaiming of ships guns He adapted this technique to his own ship and greatly increased the accuracy during target practice He brought this to the attention of his superiors in Washington, DC He was ignored He responded inforceful language and shared his information with fellow fleet officers Washington finally responded saying US equipment was a good as Britain s, and tests conducted on dry land, not at sea proved that what Sims was claiming was impossible.Sims, a zealot when aroused, jumped the chain of command and took his case to President Theodore Roosevelt Roosevelt brought Sims back to Washington and installed him as Inspector ofTarget Practice From this position over the next 6 years he implemented his proposed changes and became known in the Navy as, The man who taught us how to shoot The other naval example concerns the steam powered Navy ship Wampanoag and her creator, engineer Benjamin Franklin Isherwood He was granted a Navy commission in 1844 then went to sea on the several steam ships in the US fleet for several years These ships had masts and sails, with the steam engines providing auxiliary power By working with these engines he gained practical knowledge and ventured into some of the theory battles of the day Appointed Engineer in Chief of the Navy he was responsible for the design and construction of the power plants for the six hundred steamers added to the fleet during the Civil War In 1863 the Navy moved to build four high speed 15 knot ships that could be used to destroy enemy commerce Two of the vessels were to be built in Navy yards and the other two by private contractors They were completed in 1867 and 1868 One of the contractor ships proved worthless while the other did not reach the expected speed Isherwood s Wampanoag exceeded the desired speed by three knots, handled well at sea, and was much admired by many observers In 1869 a naval review board examining all the steam vessels in the fleet took strong exception to the U.S.S Wampanoag Criticisms included that crews would not become combat ready by lounging through the watches of a steamer, that the vessel would lack longitudinal rigidity because of her shape, would present too large a target, and several other suppositions concerning her handling abilities Morison notes that against all of the speculated faults the board raised, The ship s trials had revealed that the ship handled well in heavy weather, that she turned and maneuvered rapidly, and observers has found her remarkable steady, efficient, and easy Morison thought that the board of Admirals simply paralleled the attitude of the Admirals who would later ignore Sims Upon reflection, however, he wondered if the skeptics were not right in their opposition He notes, For a good many years after her sea trials far beyond her life expectancy, no navy did produce a vessel that equaled her in speed, and also, for a good many years there would have been nothing for her to do The world remained, as the officers predicted it would, at peace Morison credits the officers for their societal perception He writes, What these officer were saying was that the Wampanoag was a destructive force in their society Setting the extraordinary force of her engines against the weight of their way of life, they had a sudden insight into the nature of machinery He states that they saw that any machine tends to establish its own conditions, to create its own environment and draw men into it This insight of Morison s is applied not only to his other essays in this book, but to the entire project of later running MIT s new program on Science, Technology, and Society.Several of his other essays here relate to computers and their impact on society comparatively slight, but fraught with potential, good and bad, at the time of their writing in the mid 1960 s.The longest essay is a detailed examination of the development of the steel industry in the mid to late 19th Century Here he treats with the men involved, their background, character, and relative importance at the different stages of the industry The transition from iron to steel was not easy,posing the same uncertainty of change in society that the Admirals faced in their own society.He concludes with a brief philosophical consideration of looking to the future, from 1966, in Some Proposals.A well deserved five star rating to Morison s Men, Machines, and Modern Times for subject matter, style, and significance


  2. Alex Alex says:

    Ngt l ngrandig men med givande och intressanta infallsvinklar och po nger


  3. Willis Whitlock Willis Whitlock says:

    The author uses examples from the 1800s to examine our reaction to technology Published in 1968 but the principles used apply to current technology Reading this book changed the way I look at the world, especially technology.


  4. Joe Joe says:

    Great book I loved all the essays except Almost the Greatest Invention Morison does an excellent job capturing man s resistance to change, as well as the disruption caused by new technologies.