Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

Reckoning with Matter: Calculating Machines,…

Reckoning with Matter: Calculating Machines, Innovation, and Thinking…

by Matthew Jones

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations
312,001,085 (3.5)None
Recently added byrpeckham, jodi, cmc



Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

I was expecting this book to be about the calculating machines themselves, and what was necessary to build them, but it turned out to be more about the struggle to determine where, if anywhere, the line between pure invention as a mental achievement, and base manufacture, where that brilliant idea is rendered into commercially viable material form, can be drawn, and whether that division is even possible or entirely meaningful.

Today we tend to see invention as something that involves someone coming up with a clever idea and (maybe) figuring out how to make it work, with all the tedious work of actually building machines, tools, molds, and all the other miscellaneous artifacts required to successfully manufacture a salable product as being completely separate, with the originator getting their just rewards in the form of a patent and the licensing fees they can charge. The manufacturer and all the work they must put into creating the end product is seen as disconnected from, and even irrelevant to, the idea, which is special. (Indeed, with the sales of patents to "patent trolls", we see the value of the patent being completely divorced from the realization of the invention, a problem exacerbated by the ability to obtain patents for inventions that are, arguably, only ideas, and the willingness of some litigants to extend their claims of validity into areas far beyond those imagined by the original recipient of the patent.)

But the line between inventor and manufacturer used to be much blurrier, as patents (and similar royal grants) were only given for inventions that were "reduced to practice", and thus required the inventor to engage skilled craft artisans to realize their ideas as material objects, as well as to develop all the necessary tooling and manufacturing techniques that would be required to make mass production of their devices possible. With these requirements, the artisan becomes a vital part of the process, and, because of their greater knowledge of the physical aspects of materials, their knowledge of mechanisms and tools, and ability to create new mechanisms and tools to produce those mechanisms, seem to have as much, or even more, of a creative role in realizing the inventions as their "inventors" do.

The legal status of the two parties teeters back and forth, as the inventor seeks patent-like rights over the invention and denies the interests of the artisans involved, and the artisans seek adequate payment to cover their expenses, not only for the production of drawings, tools, and working mechanisms, but for the potential income from their ordinary business that they are forgoing by taking on the development of these complex calculating machines.

The relationships between these two parties can be fascinating, as there is some amount of both mutual dependence and contempt on both sides, with some inventors trying to downplay the contributions of their artisan collaborators, and some artisans keeping the inventors on the hook by moderating their progress on the machines and toolings in order to balance out their need for money against the inventor's desire to pay them as little as possible and give them as little credit for their role in realizing the calculator as they could get away with.

Success was not guaranteed even when the inventor and the artisan worked well together, with Babbage's struggles with the Difference Engine and Analytical Engine being a prime example. Babbage acknowledged Clement's key role in translating idea into mechanism, but even so getting funding for the machine that was sufficient to bring it to completion never happened (although other machines using the same principle as the difference engine were produced by others within Babbage's lifetime, and the Difference Engine 2 was just recently built largely from Babbage's and Clement's plans, but with various refinements and design changes needed to make the final machine work—the role of the craftsman still being necessary, despite the detail of the plans). ( )
  cmc | Mar 7, 2017 |
no reviews | add a review
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
First words
Last words
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English


Book description
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 022641146X, Hardcover)

From Blaise Pascal in the 1600s to Charles Babbage in the first half of the nineteenth century, inventors struggled to create the first calculating machines. All failed—but that does not mean we cannot learn from the trail of ideas, correspondence, machines, and arguments they left behind.
In Reckoning with Matter, Matthew L. Jones draws on the remarkably extensive and well-preserved records of the quest to explore the concrete processes involved in imagining, elaborating, testing, and building calculating machines. He explores the writings of philosophers, engineers, and craftspeople, showing how they thought about technical novelty, their distinctive areas of expertise, and ways they could coordinate their efforts. In doing so, Jones argues that the conceptions of creativity and making they exhibited are often more incisive—and more honest—than those that dominate our current legal, political, and aesthetic culture.

(retrieved from Amazon Sun, 04 Dec 2016 02:22:06 -0500)

No library descriptions found.

Quick Links

Swap Ebooks Audio

Popular covers


Average: (3.5)
3.5 1

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


You are using the new servers! | About | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 117,017,599 books! | Top bar: Always visible