- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (July 15 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 019530599X
- ISBN-13: 978-0195305999
- Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 3 x 15.2 cm
- Shipping Weight: 499 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #3,489,589 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
How Invention Begins: Echoes of Old Voices in the Rise of New Machines Hardcover – Jul 15 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Lienhard is enthralled with invention, how it happens and how inventions both shape and are shaped by culture. He posits that the quest for a single canonical inventor of a new technology is illusory, because all inventions are the sum of many contributors. To make his point, Lienhard (professor emeritus of mechanical engineering and history at the University of Houston and host of public radio's The Engines of Our Ingenuity) traces the development of airplanes and steam engines, among other technologies, in a lucid style filled with interesting forays into origins and biography. But the author is also fascinated by what is best described as the invention of the spread of knowledge. The second half of the book is an examination of how Gutenburg's printing press began a worldwide explosion of knowledge that traces its roots to the incunabula, books written between 1455 and 1500, and ends with the mass production of books for popular consumption. Lienhard also pays tribute to the development of the public library, museums, correspondence courses and universities as means of education. The author's personality permeates his writing, and it's impossible not to admire his optimism, his far-reaching knowledge and his enthusiasm for learning. 120 illus. (July)
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"Watt's genius was in devising a practical engine; Lienhard's genius is in telling the real story of invention."-- New Scientist Magazine
"Lienhard looks at the notion of invention and human creativity as a cultural phenomenon. He asserts that most inventions are not the work of one person or collaboration, but the result of the efforts of many people in many places over expanses of time. Almost all such efforts are undertaken to fulfill some human need."--cienceNews
"Leinhard agrees that any scientist or engineer who writes regularly for genarl consumption does so from a sense of mission. For him that boils down to a belief that technology isn't extrinsic to human nature. It's not something we can choose to employ or not. 'Technology,' he says, 'is what we are. We are the only species that cannot live without the fruits of our invention.'"--Houston Chronicle
"Lienhard is enthralled with invention, how it happens and how inventions both shape and are shaped by culture. He posits that the quest for a single canonical inventor of a new technology is illusory, because all inventions are the sum of many contributors. To make his point, Lienhard (professor emeritus of mechanical engineering and history at the University of Houston and host of public radio's The Engines of Our Ingenuity) traces the development of airplanes and steam engines, among other technologies, in a lucid style filled with interesting forays into origins and biography. ... The author's personality permeates his writing, and it's impossible not to admire his optimism, his far-reaching knowledge and his enthusiasm for learning."--Publishers Weekly
"Lienhard, a graceful and perceptive writer, has produced a popular book that may well seduce the general public away from receieved hero myths without denigrating those myths."--Technology and Culture
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
I was taught in school while growing up that James Watt was the inventor of the steam engine. That couldn't be farther from the truth. Watt only realized an improved version of Papin's and Newcomen's engine that led to a remarkable spike in operating efficiency because he learned, among other things, how to separate the condensation/vacuum process from the pressure cylinder. The idea of a lone inventor operating in a vaccuum from developments that have gone on in the past or going on concurrently is a total myth and it continues to be used in professional circles today.
Mr. Leinhard's perspectives on inventive motivation and exponential change left a strong impression on me. The efficiency of steam engines have just crawled upward since the 1930's and today a number of engineers are involved in the collective practice of improving it merely by tiny fractions. Some engineers devote 30 years of their professional life to this goal. That's astounding when you step back and look at it.
The reality of the matter is, the primary development of the steam engine has been complete (35-40% efficiency) because man is thwarted by the implications of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. When the development is complete, tiny fractions of a percent increase in efficiency comes with huge increases in cost. Look at what's happening in Diesel Engines today. Cleaner than gasoline engines as far as emissions go, but costs an arm and a leg in achieving those new boundaries.
I'm in my engineering career where I have to use this idea to re position myself within the automobile industry. There's a time you have to dig your head out of the sand, turn it and look in the way of a completely different technology! The next decade and beyond will be the age of electric vehicles and because this industry is also pressured by Government regulations worldwide, the "DESIRE" of engineers along with the "PRESSURE" from regulations may lead to exponential rise in improvements. Perhaps the slope of that exponential change will be very different compared to mechanical systems because now you're moving away from gears and linkages and other contraptions to digital computers, silicon chips, transistors, electric signals. Look at BEV's today. At some point, even batteries with a certain chemistry will meet their development end because you can push the boundaries of Thermodynamics only so long before you get more tradeoffs in cost, energy density and power. Then you have to start the search for a different battery chemistry altogether. This kind of development is going on in many R&D circles around the world at the moment.
I'm sure the collective efforts of engineers and scientists will only lead to a brave new world for humans, as we look to the sky and beyond to spread our species. This book really highlights that key idea and it makes total sense.