The Engines of Our Ingenuity: An Engineer Looks at Technology and Culture

The Engines of Our Ingenuity: An Engineer Looks at Technology and Culture

The Engines of Our Ingenuity: An Engineer Looks at Technology and Culture

The Engines of Our Ingenuity: An Engineer Looks at Technology and Culture


Millions of people have listened to John H. Lienhard's radio program "The Engines of Our Ingenuity." In this fascinating book, Lienhard gathers his reflections on the nature of technology, culture, and human inventiveness. The book brims with insightful observations. Lienhard writes that the history of technology is a history of us--we are the machines we create. Thus farming dramatically changed the rhythms of human life and redirected history. War seldom fuels invention--radar, jets, and the digital computer all emerged before World War II began. And the medieval Church was a driving force behind the growth of Western technology--Cistercian monasteries were virtual factories, whose water wheels cut wood, forged iron, and crushed olives. Lienhard illustrates his themes through inventors, mathematicians, and engineers--with stories of the canoe, the DC-3, the Hoover Dam, the diode, and the sewing machine. We gain new insight as to who we are, through the familiar machines and technologies that are central to our lives.


A dam awoke on the eighth day of creation, measuring his newly gained creative powers. in a harsh, forbidding world, somewhere to the east of Eden, Adam flexed new muscles and smiled. “That garden was nothing, ” he chuckled. “We're well rid of it. I'll build a garden that'll put it to shame.”

That eighth day of creation was, in fact, very late in time. Adam had hunted and gathered in the garden for four million years. Then, just the other day—only about thirty thousand years ago—he came into the dense, self-reinforcing, technical knowledge that has, ever since, driven him further and further from the garden.

We are a willful, apple-driven, and mind-obsessed people.That side of our nature is not one that we can dodge for very long. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the eleventh-century Christian church was that it forged a tentative peace with human restlessness. All the great monotheistic religions of the world have honored God as Maker of the world, but the medieval Christian church went much further: It asserted that God had manifested himself in human form as a carpenter—a technologist, a creator scaled to human proportions. It seemed clear that if we are cast in God's image, then God must rightly be honored as the Master Craftsman.

The peace forged between the medieval Church and Adam's apple was wonderfully expressed by an anonymous fourteenth-century Anglo-Saxon monk who sang:

Adam lay ibounden, bounden in a bond. Four thousand winter, thought he not to long.

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