Technology: A World History

Technology: A World History

Technology: A World History

Technology: A World History

Synopsis

Today technology has created a world of dazzling progress, growing disparities of wealth and poverty, and looming threats to the environment. Technology: A World History offers an illuminating backdrop to our present moment - a brilliant history of invention around the globe. Historian Daniel R. Headrick ranges from the Stone Age and the beginnings of agriculture to the Industrial Revolution and the electronic revolution of the recent past. In tracing the growing power of humans over nature through increasingly powerful innovations, he compares the evolution of technology in different parts of the world, providing a much broader account than is found in other histories of technology. We also discover how small changes sometimes have dramatic results - how, for instance, the stirrup revolutionized war and gave the Mongols a deadly advantage over the Chinese. And how the nailed horseshoe was a pivotal breakthrough for western farmers. Enlivened with many illustrations, Technologyoffers a fascinating look at the spread of inventions around the world, both as boons for humanity and as weapons of destruction.

Excerpt

The history of humans and technology is a long one, going back millions of years to the use of stones as tools and to their fashioning into more efficient devices through skillful flaking. Ancient peoples discovered the use of fire as a survival technology, only much later devising increasingly complicated systems of water management for irrigation and later still for hydroelectric power and many other uses. As communications technology developed closer to our own times, it brought people into greater contact and made them more knowledgeable and cosmopolitan. Medical and agricultural technology improved life expectancy, especially in our modern era; artificial organs could replace dying ones, and chemical and nuclear medicines could stop diseases such as cancers in their tracks.

Although such technology appears to have an exclusively personal function, making life more pleasant and efficient, ambitious leaders of ancient and more recent times have commandeered technology to help them build states and to conquer other peoples. Aqueducts stretching for hundreds of miles and the building of ships for warfare and trade were among the technologies that allowed leaders of states to maintain and expand their power. Increasingly, the comparatively simple weaponry of Stone Age people gave way to more complex machinery for conquest and destruction, weaponry that has been put to ever more devastating use in the past century.

It is hardly surprising, then, that people have had ambivalent feelings about technology of all sorts—and not just about the sophisticated machines of our own day. Pliny the Elder in the first century CE praised iron for its ability to cut stone and fell trees: “But this metal serves also for war, murder and robbery,” he wrote in Natural History, “and this I hold to be the most blameworthy product of the human mind.” Critics have also charged technology with pollution and other devastating effects on the natural world. For all its ability to provide increasing ease for the world’s inhabitants, the case for technology’s drawbacks is a powerful one, showing the tensions produced by the universal human capacity to invent.

This book is part of the New Oxford World History, an innovative series that offers readers an informed, lively, and up-to-date history . . .

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