Monday, September 07, 2009

An Interesting Book on American Science and Inventions 1700 to 1950

Title: American Science and Invention a Pictoral History
Author: Mitchell Wilson
Publication: Bonanza, Crown Publishers, 1960

I bought this at a library fundraiser book sale for fifty cents as it intrigued me. I later realized it had a terrible mildew odor so bought a better copy from an Amazon Marketplace sellers as it is currently out of print, and threw the mildewed book in the trash (which kills me to do but the fact is that one mildewed book can spread mildew to other books if kept in a collection).

This book was written for adults. It is a hardcover that is large sized pages and over an inch thick. It is filled with tons of illustrations, old illustrations from the time the thing was happening. Thus some of these are gorgeous etchings. There are images of people, inventions, machinery, and reproductions of documents and general scenes of the time such as a landscape showing a factory that made the thing being discussed.

The book is arranged in chronological order.

I am not exactly sure how our family will use this book. So far it has served as a coffee table book used to skim illustrations and I’ve stopped to read parts of it. So far I don’t find it boring although I have not sat down to read it cover to cover and don’t know how the reading goes if tackling reading it in that manner.

In the foreword, I learned some things that perhaps you’d like to know. The author was first a lab scientist who worked with engineers who later turned to writing. He describes being enthralled with the history of American invention and science. He says of this book “I find it an extremely personal story. I find nothing in it with which I would seriously quarrel, which means that I have written not the perfect history but the perfect representation of my own prejudices, biases, enthusiasms, and angers. It could not have been different. No man can encompass all of truth. The only truth he can tell is the statement of his own opinions. I have written this book not as a historian—which I am not—but as the other two fellows I recall my am: a novelist and a scientist. It was the novelist in me who told the personal stories, who enjoyed the dramatic detail, who tried to bring to life the men and values of gone time. It was the physicists in me, the worker in various laboratories, who appraised and explained the work of these men.”

“Because this work is collaboration between my two professional selves, the result is a compromise. When I found a man whose personality was interesting, the novelist insisted on giving him room to act out his human story, even though the physicist kept protesting that the man’s work didn’t entitle him to that much space. On the other hand, the physicist would just as strongly insist on the inclusion of a brilliant and crucial piece of research when the novelist could not truly get the feeling of the man.”

Later he says “No one is more aware than I of the mass of material that has been left out. All I can say is that, given my theme and premise, this is the book to be expected from a man with my background, my experiences in life, my temperament, my weaknesses and my talents”.

And if you want a bit about American history he goes on to say this is the story of American change and how American inventions have changed the world.

One thing I note is also in the preface he notes that America is a nation of manufacturing. Indeed since 1960 many changes have happened to shift a lot of the manufacturing overseas and our nation is now doing other types of inventing and working with technologies. So this book is a snapshot of history from 1700 to the 1950s. There is very little here from the 1950, a few mentions in the last section that end at 1954.

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