Looking for books about history of technologies
July 16, 2008 4:33 PM   Subscribe

Looking for good books on the history of technologies.

Basically, I'm looking for books like The Making of the Atomic Bomb, but about other modern technologies. Long, technically detailed, well-written, and engaging are all positives. I'm not too picky about what the technology is but I'm interested in "big" technologies from the last 100 years - histories of things like rocketry, nuclear power, integrated circuits, etc. are all good.

Bonus question: if anyone knows of a book on the history of accelerator design, that would be especially interesting.
posted by pombe to Technology (17 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Two books that I have liked that are loosely in this category. The Frozen Water Trade (about the ice business before home refrigeration) and Who Got Einstein's Office (about the institute for advanced study in Pricnceton)? Links go to my reviews. Both books are really interesting, though not quite on-topic.
posted by jessamyn at 5:02 PM on July 16, 2008

The Code Book by Simon Singh is great and goes into a lot of technical detail on Enigma, the British codebreakers, and modern public key encryption.
posted by smackfu at 5:34 PM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Engines of Discovery: A Century of Particle Accelerators. Can't vouch for it's quality as I just did an Amazon search and found it.
posted by wannalol at 5:57 PM on July 16, 2008

The Myth of the Machine Volumes I and II (by Lewis Mumford) are great books about the history of technology in general. It even comes with a twist that may change how you view technology's place in our society.
posted by symbollocks at 5:59 PM on July 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

perhaps you would be interested in the work of David Noble - especially the Forces of Production - a detailed & politically charged history of industrial automation in the US

his America by Design - a history of the patent process in the US - is also a remarkably revealing (& almost overwhelmingly detailed) investigation of the political dimensions of science

on a much lighter (& less detailed) note, you might like The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage - a history of the telegraph

his History of the World in Six Glasses is also fun - and pertinent, b/c if we're talking "big" tech, then you can't get much bigger than fermentation, right? it's maybe even the original tech...
posted by jammy at 6:12 PM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

This history of portable (including pre-transistor) radios is written by an archaeologist (one of the leading ones of the last 40 years, in fact) and could be quite a different approach to technology for you.
posted by Rumple at 6:13 PM on July 16, 2008

Tuxedo Park: Eccentric billionaire establishes private lab, invites Einstein, Bohr, & Fermi and ends up developing radar during WWII.
posted by djb at 7:47 PM on July 16, 2008

Empire of the Air ...(great read on early radio and TV)...
posted by FauxScot at 7:52 PM on July 16, 2008

Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is a really great, philosophical approach to understanding the development of new scientific theories and technologies. It's a little more on the theoretical side of things, but it may be interesting.

posted by coolguy#1 at 8:26 PM on July 16, 2008

Almost any book by Henry Petroski is very good.

The Building of Mt. Palomar

Hoover Dam

Golden Gate Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge

Merritt Parkway

I have a few more but my visiting parents have too much crep piled in front of the bookcase to get to them....this should get you started though.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:47 PM on July 16, 2008

I've enjoyed these two for their good writing and cogent technological explanations: the Gatling Gun and aircraft accident analysis
posted by ptm at 12:41 AM on July 17, 2008

I want to second Where Wizards Stay Up Late, for a nice, approachable overview of the building of the internet. Additionally, the Structure of Scientific Revolutions is one of my favorite monographs, so I have to agree with that one, too.
posted by absalom at 5:24 AM on July 17, 2008

Cathedral, Forge and Waterwheel by Joseph and Frances Gies. A history of historical technology.
posted by Bummus at 10:15 AM on July 17, 2008

Clearly, I need to read your entire post--that's a little earlier than 100 years ago. Whoops.
posted by Bummus at 10:16 AM on July 17, 2008

Response by poster: Lots of good answers here ... even the ones that are far afield from what I was asking for look pretty interesting. Thanks!
posted by pombe at 12:55 PM on July 17, 2008

For a non-linear, relational look at the history of technology, read anything by James Burke. Or watch any of his Connections TV series. The original series was best.
posted by kc0dxh at 3:37 PM on July 18, 2008

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