Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Not in a Thousand Years by Geoff Fernald ****

OUT OF PRINT An engineer's history of the 20th century.  Not in a Thousand Years by Geoff Fernald presents the 20th century as the culmination of civilization and the turning point to a better world. The scope is all encompassing, including the obvious breakthroughs in communication (radio), biology (DNA), and computing (integrated circuits), but also more engineering successes (life-cycle management, CAD) and social changes such as feminism, oral contraception, and even slap stick comedy, rock and roll, and Polaroid cameras.

This summary of the century alone makes this book a worthwhile read and reference.

I also found it to be an interesting insight into the engineering mind: optimistic, logical and  linear.

A nice example here is the repeal of prohibition: "Prohibition should serve as a signpost to help us avoid future embarrassment with legislated morality." Unfortunately, 10 years after the publication of 1000 years, human nature wins out over "future embarrassment," and "legislated morality," and legislated morality and legal prohibitions have returned globally.

As a victim of linear thought, 1000 years just misses the impact of CAD on architecture as demonstrated by Frank Gehry's dramatic structures in Bilbao, Seattle, and Los Angeles. While CAD and architecture are both highlighted, CAD's breakthrough that let architecture abandon regular geometries comes in at the end of the 20th century and is thus missed.

Another linear thought that I'm am confident will be proven false this century is: "[Progress through education] will not likely occur in continental Africa during the 21st century."

Taken a broad summary of the 20th century, this is a great read and reference.

I worked with the author many years ago (late 1980s).


Anonymous said...

I agree with your suggested missed fact (and I beg your pardon, i am not a linear thinker) of the power of CAD in changing all facets of design.

And on education in Africa, i said in my conclusions that Africa would lag all the world in the 21st century in its struggle to rise out of its divisions.

you can delete that second comment if you wish
good to hear from you and thank you so much for your note and blog. geoff fernald

Sarah Fernald Loft said...

I have also read the book- and though I am somewhat biased-- being his daughter :)-- I was not sure I would like it until I read it! It is a well-organized and very interesting compilation of the society and world-changing events, trends, discoveries, and inventions of the 20th century. I think it is a great addition to a "regular" history book for adults and teenage readers. Living in the 20th century, it is hard to see it from the outside but once you read this book it gives a sense of amazement and wonder about the incredible distance humankind has come.