Reflections on the nature of technology, culture, human inventiveness, and the history of engineering in a fascinating book.


We were among those who tuned into Lienhard’s radio program every chance we got and always found him to be both erudite and congenial – the sort of teacher who makes learning a pleasure – and this book is a treasure, especially for the non-scientist who wants to understand how science impacts the world in which they live.

The engines of our ingenuity: an engineer looks at technology and culture Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2000 John H. Lienhard Creative ability in technology Hardcover. 1st. ed., later printing. viii, 262 p.: ill .; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text.  VG/VG

A million people tuned in twice each week to hear John H. Lienhard’s radio program “The Engines of Our Ingenuity.” Now Lienhard has gathered together his reflections on the nature of technology, culture, human inventiveness, and the history of engineering in this fascinating new book.

The Engines of Our Ingenuity offers a series of intriguing glimpses into technology – as a mirror, as a danger, as a product of heroic hubris. The book brims with insightful observations. Lienhard writes, for instance, that the history of technology is a history of us – we are the machines we create. Indeed, our very first technology, farming, which demanded year-long care, dramatically changed the rhythms of human life and the course of our history. We also learn that war does not necessarily fuel invention (radar, jets, and the digital computer all emerged before World War II began), and that the medieval Church was actually a driving force behind the growth of Western technology (Cistercian monasteries were virtual factories, putting water wheels to work in wood-cutting, forging, and olive crushing).

Lienhard illuminates the unpredictable nature of the inventive mind, leading us through one fascinating example after another. Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, for instance, were highly passionate, even combative figures, while the almost invisible Josiah Willard Gibbs, living a quiet, outwardly uneventful life, was probably America’s greatest scientist. Lienhard ranges far and wide with stories of inventors, mathematicians, and engineers, telling the story of the canoe, the DC-3, the Hoover Dam, the diode, and the sewing machine. The result is less history than biography – for the biography of all of us is written in our machines.

About these ads

Comments Off

Filed under Book Reviews

Comments are closed.