Sunday, September 11, 2011

David Edgerton

David Edgerton is the Hans Rausing Professor at Imperial College London where he was the Founding Director of its Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine. He is the author of the iconoclastic and brilliant The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900 (Oxford, 2007).

His new book is Britain's War Machine: Weapons, Resources, and Experts in the Second World War.

A couple of weeks ago I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Javier Cercas, The Anatomy of a Moment (Bloomsbury 2011)
This astonishing account of what the Spanish call the ’23-F’, the attempted coup of 23 February 1981, much more incisive than most histories and imaginatively richer than most novels, is a masterpiece. It is a work of sparkling intelligence about the transition from Francoism, a huge political rupture which consumed its architects, three men who on the fateful day stayed seated in the Spanish parliament, in the certain knowledge that for them there was no escape. They, and Spanish democracy, survived.

Matt Houlbrook, Queer London (Chicago University Press 2005)
This account of men having sex with each other in various public spaces in early to mid-twentieth century London surprises on nearly every page – the story is unexpected and often inspiring. It is a poignant reminder of the poverty of public discussion about the realities of the world.

By contrast Daniel Bell, The Coming of Post-Industrial Society: A venture in social forecasting (Basic Books, 1999) first published 1973 surprises hardly at all. While I am ashamed not to have read it till now, I need not have bothered. Like so much work on modernity, its wholesome conformity to the opinions of the great and good and powerful ensures it reproduced clich├ęs and helped perpetuate them, in fact that is pretty well all it did.

Matthew Crawford, Shop Class as Soulcraft (Penguin, 2009) illustrates the contrast between Houlbrook and Bell rather well. It is a witty and original book whose central claim, that repairing a complex machine is more difficult and rewarding than most academic let alone office work. It is above and beyond a forceful indictment of the all too familiar present where, in so many spheres of life and work, process is all and outcome irrelevant.
Learn more about Britain's War Machine at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 69 Test: The Shock of the Old.

Writers Read: David Edgerton (May 2007).

--Marshal Zeringue