As usual, I am trying to learn everything I can from history. Business people tend to be bad at this. Technologists may be even worse. Here’s a cheap, quick, fun-to-read solution – or at least a start – to solving that.
Technology in America: A History of Individuals and Ideas edited by Carroll W. Pursell, Jr. (second edition, 2001, MIT Press) has long been one of my favorite books. It contains 23 short, easy-to-digest chapters, by different authors and experts, describing key technologies in American history. And the technologists who pioneered them.
My favorite chapter might be Reese Jenkins’ “George Eastman and the Coming of Industrial Research in America.” This great story covers a lot more than just the birth of industrial research; it tells the trials and tribulations of the fellow who commercialized consumer photography. He was an amazing and visionary man.
Other chapters cover such inventors and innovators as Jefferson, Whitney, Bell, Edison, Ford, and Lindbergh. Included are the stories of the births of the rocket (Goddard) and Silicon Valley (Terman).
If we all learned even the most fundamental histories of the industries we work in, if we studied the briefest biographies of the great pioneers, we’d all be light-years ahead in our thinking, our skills, and our ability to envision the future. If you really want to understand technology and its future, there is no better place to start than with this book.   




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