Wondrous Contrivances: Technology at the Threshold, by...

Editor's Choice

March 03, 2002|By Michael Pakenham

Wondrous Contrivances: Technology at the Threshold, by Merritt Ierley (Potter, 306 pages, $22).

The typewriter, first marketed in 1876, was by the 1890s soaring in popularity in the literate world -- in almost precise parallel to the personal computer, which went to market first in 1976 and inundated homes throughout the industrial world by the 1990s. Historic parallels also join the telegraph and the Internet, photography and television. Ierley, a respected historian of technology, does not belabor such similar sweeps of inventions and technological developments -- but the echoes do help celebrate the impact of inventiveness on human society. This charming book is a natural for dipping into on a rainy weekend afternoon, or working on if you have exhausted your store of conversational wow-talk. There are punctiliously researched chapters on technical accomplishments from railroads to television, from the bicycle to home entertainment complexes. In between come the telephone, telegraph, fax machine, air travel and radio. Extra delights include reproductions of original operating instructions and advertisements.

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