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The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900 (2007)

by David Edgerton

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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318970,144 (3.36)1
From the books of H.G. Wells to the press releases of NASA, we are awash in clich#65533;d claims about high technology's ability to change the course of history. Now, in The Shock of the Old, David Edgerton offers a startling new and fresh way of thinking about the history of technology, radically revising our ideas about the interaction of technology and society in the past and in the present. He challenges us to view the history of technology in terms of what everyday people have actually used-and continue to use-rather than just sophisticated inventions. Indeed, many highly touted technologies, from the V-2 rocket to the Concorde jet, have been costly failures, while many mundane discoveries, like corrugated iron, become hugely important around the world. Edgerton reassesses the significance of such acclaimed inventions as the Pill and information technology, and underscores the continued importance of unheralded technology, debunking many notions about the implications of the "information age." A provocative history, The Shock of the Old provides an entirely new way of looking historically at the relationship between invention and innovation.… (more)
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English (7)  Dutch (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (9)
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Reevaluation of the role of technological innovation in the course of history, Many old technologies still in use, many new ones did not meet initial claims.
  ritaer | Apr 17, 2022 |
Having read the author's critique of the British military-industrial state, I knew pretty much what to expect; a polemical dismissal of the inventor as a Promethean figure and of the academy as being overrated as a contributor to technological change. Most important in this extended essay is that Edgerton calls for a history of technology based on an examination of what specific tools and processes that societies make use of, as opposed to notions of supposed progress. ( )
  Shrike58 | Aug 21, 2013 |
Amazon received
  romsfuulynn | Apr 28, 2013 |
An interesting book--the author makes a lot of really valid points, but the writing made some of them pretty hard to grasp. ( )
1 vote savoirfaire | Apr 6, 2013 |
I was very disappointed in this book for a number of reasons. The introduction promised a history of technology based on use rather than invention, a bottom-up, non-western and, in its own word, feminised view of its history. However, the book takes what I feel to be a very traditional, and perhaps macho, approach of introducing favourite myths and rebutting them. And it is not always consistent. Sometimes the argument is that, in use terms, technology changes little, for example the prevalence of small arms and horses in the second world war (although here I think he also conflates usage with efficacy, particularly when comparing the killing power of traditional bombs and the atom bomb). At others, it is that technological change is usually led by military needs rather than from the academy. Of course both can be true, but I felt that his approach of myth-busting meant adjacent chapters appeared to contradict each other. There is much in here that is worth reading and the myths of technological determinism do indeed need to be busted. But I am not convinced that either Edgerton's approach nor his use of statistics succeeds in doing so. ( )
  Schopflin | Dec 2, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
"Edgerton notes that, 'The historical study of things in use, and the uses of things, matters.' (p. 212). After reading this fascinating book, we have to agree, and I would urge anyone with an interest in the history of technology to get this book. Your view of the world will never be the same."
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Edgerton, DavidAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jeanmougin, ChristianTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
I stood on a hill and I saw the Old approaching, but it came as the New.
It hobbled up on new crutches which no one had ever seen before and stank new smells of decay which no one had ever smelt before.
-Bertolt Brecht (1939) from 'Parade of the New', in Bertolt Brect: Poems 1913-1956, John Willett and Raph Manheim (eds.) (London: Methuen, 1987), p. 323
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For Andrew
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Much of what is written on the history of technology is for boys of all ages.
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From the books of H.G. Wells to the press releases of NASA, we are awash in clich#65533;d claims about high technology's ability to change the course of history. Now, in The Shock of the Old, David Edgerton offers a startling new and fresh way of thinking about the history of technology, radically revising our ideas about the interaction of technology and society in the past and in the present. He challenges us to view the history of technology in terms of what everyday people have actually used-and continue to use-rather than just sophisticated inventions. Indeed, many highly touted technologies, from the V-2 rocket to the Concorde jet, have been costly failures, while many mundane discoveries, like corrugated iron, become hugely important around the world. Edgerton reassesses the significance of such acclaimed inventions as the Pill and information technology, and underscores the continued importance of unheralded technology, debunking many notions about the implications of the "information age." A provocative history, The Shock of the Old provides an entirely new way of looking historically at the relationship between invention and innovation.

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