Building the pyramids was child's play compared with designing the Internet and other highly complex 20th-century projects. So many individuals and organizations had to come together to successfully build these more recent monumental structures that new ways of managing complex undertakings had to be invented on the spot. Eminent technology historian Thomas P. Hughes explores the development of systems engineering in Rescuing Prometheus, which focuses on four projects that are bewildering in their enormity, yet were completed successfully.
The SAGE air-defense project transformed computers from mathematical labor savers into decision-makers by proxy, and spawned the first elements of "postmodern management." Then, the Atlas missile program brought together the disparate elements of the military-industrial-university complex and demanded new, less hierarchical control over individual subprograms. This new way of thinking brought engineers such as Dean Wooldridge and Simon Ramo to prominence.
Hughes follows these developments in systems engineering closely as they were applied to ARPANET and Boston's Central Artery/Tunnel Project. Along the way those projects encountered both the simplifying synergy and maddening political slowdowns involved with not just a handful of problems, but entire communities of messy problems. Readers discouraged by seemingly inflexible barriers to solving complex social and technical problems can take heart after reading Rescuing Prometheus. This book shows that while we still can't fix the world, we're building better tools to do so every day. --Rob Lightner
"An important contribution to an understanding of the history, politics and culture of big science-based projects in [the Cold War] era.... Uplifting." -The New York Times Book Review
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"Hughes does an impressive job of bringing the titanic projects down to size.... Assiduously researched." -Wired