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The Existential Pleasures of Engineering by…
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The Existential Pleasures of Engineering

by Samuel C. Florman

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Existential Pleasure of Engineering
This book makes the argument that despite the frequent unintended side effects, engineering is beneficial to society and is even an intrinsic characteristic of human nature. The argument mainly seems to be a counter-argument to the “anti-technology” movement of the 1960s and 1970s when this book was written. I consider the title to be unfortunate as it is likely to be unappealing to engineers and non-engineers alike, however, the author obviously felt differently.

The book is divided into three untitled parts. Part One sets up the topic for the rest of the book. The author considers the 100 year period between 1850 and 1950 and labels it the “Golden Age” of engineering. Millions of people attended numerous World Expos to marvel at the latest technological marvels produced by engineers. Large structures like the Eiffel Tower were built which were larger yet lighter than anything previously constructed anywhere, and amazed and excited people. Transportation and communication advances dramatically altered how people perceived time and distance. This period ended just after the Second World War. The combined effects of the anxiety and regret about the Atomic Bomb, a growing awareness of the environmental pollution caused by technology, and a general dissatisfaction with social problems also attributed to technology led many people to question whether technology was truly a improving the human condition.

Part Two of the book focuses on several critics of Technology in the period after the “Golden Age” and through the mid 1970's when this book was published. The author refers to these critics as the “Anti-technologists” and focuses on five in particular: Jacques Ellul (The Technological Society, 1954), Lewis Mumford, (The Myth of the Machine, 1967), Rene Dubois (So Human an Animal, 1968), Charles Reich (The Greening of America, 1970), and Theodore Roszak (Where the Wasteland Ends, 1972). These authors are reviewed and quoted extensively. Florman acknowledges that some of their criticism is valid, but he disagrees with them: “... Their sentiment about nature, work, art, spirituality, and many of the good things in life, are generally splendid and difficult to quarrel with. … In sum, the antitechnologists are good men, and they mean well. But, frightened and dismayed by the unfolding of the human drama in our time, yearning for simple solutions where there can be none, and refusing to acknowledge that the true source of our problems is nothing other than the irrepressible human will, they have deluded themselves with the doctrine of antitechnology.”

After establishing the positive and negative consequences of engineering and technology, in Part Three, the author develops his idea that engineering is an “existential” component of human nature. Quoting from numerous sources, including reaching all the way back to Homer and to the Old Testament, he suggests that building and creating have always been an intrinsic to human nature, i.e. “existential”. His arguments are very, very subjective, but interesting.

The book is well written, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the subject. Obviously, the book is somewhat dated. Significant technological changes have occurred since it was published. Problems of the “Information Age”, such as loss of privacy, did not even exist when the book was written. Still, the author's overall perspective on technology makes it interesting reading. The author is a successful practicing engineer with B.S. degree in Civil Engineering and an M.A. degree in English Literature, so he is well qualified to write on this topic. ( )
  dougb56586 | Jun 3, 2016 |
Complex collection of essays written over the course of several years defending the Engineer as a professional of the highest order. Well written from a stylistic standpoint. Florman takes the reader through the highwater mark of engineering (industrial revolution) to its demise (dawn of the nuclear age). Many of the essays are talks given to other engineering societys but they are accessable to people from other disciplines as well. This book was highly recommended to me by an engineer friend who got me my own copy. Not a brilliant work, but a good counterbalance to some of the 'science' writing being done today which tends toward the rhetorical more than the rational. Florman is dated but more persuasive than science-desk journalism or journal contributors. ( )
  sacredheart25 | Apr 5, 2013 |
A rare defense of masculinity, and a brilliantly compiled ethos. ( )
  mr.lewis | May 27, 2009 |
A nice, concise apologetics for engineering; chicken soup for the engineer's soul, and a succinct summary of its major foci and philosophies. ( )
  erk | Nov 30, 2008 |
This is an excellent book that explains why engineers do their job. It is a must for anyone interested in understanding the human nature of engineers. ( )
  all4metals | Sep 3, 2007 |
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Humans have always sought to change their environment--building houses, monuments, temples, and roads. In the process, they have remade the fabric of the world into newly functional objects that are also works of art to be admired. In this second edition of his popularExistential Pleasures of Engineering, Samuel Florman explores how engineers think and feel about their profession. A deeply insightful and refreshingly unique text, this book corrects the myth that engineering is cold and passionless. Indeed, Florman celebrates engineering not only crucial and fundamental but also vital and alive; he views it as a response to some of our deepest impulses, an endeavor rich in spiritual and sensual rewards. Opposing the "anti-technology" stance, Florman gives readers a practical, creative, and even amusing philosophy of engineering that boasts of pride in his craft.… (more)

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