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James Burke


The original (I think) work of trying to weave the threads of technological change through history – and possibly still the best. In terms of the broad sweep of history and the wedding of social and scientific factors, it's hard to beat.

I don;t know how many of Burke's connections are genuinely novel to him: did anyone before postulate that the Black Death led to the emergence of automation by making machines cheaper than manpower for the first time? Or did he get it from an earlier source? Whichever: for a lot of people (myself included) this book (which I first read over twenty years ago) was our first exposure to these ideas, and indeed to the idea that science and technology are in a two-way conversation with society.

4/5. Finished 18 December 2019.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

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