Review: The shock of the Old

I recently had the opportunity to review an extremely interesting new book on the role that technology has played in modern history, entitled ‘The Shock Of The Old: Technology In Global History Since 1900’, by David Edgerton (Profile Books, €27.90).

Here’s an excerpt of the review:


“While conventional thinking says that the world we live in depends on the microchip and electricity, Edgerton argues that the sewing machine, the rickshaw and the horse have had a more significant effect on more people’s lives, and hence are more significant technologies.

In a case in point, he discusses the invention of corrugated iron in the nineteenth century. This building material is still used by hundreds of millions of people for roofing in the developed world, surely making it a very significant technological development.

Compare this to something like Concorde, something which at one point was hailed as representing the pinnacle of technological achievement but which ultimately affected the lives of very few people.

Which is the superior technology? Clearly it has to be the corrugated tin roof, but why do we automatically assume the more complex invention to be the more significant? Edgerton thinks it’s because of the frequent use of the word technology to refer to what is really innovation, or the invention and first use of something.”

You can read the rest of this review at

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