"A rare insight into industrial planning on a huge scale...Excellent." --The Economist
Rescuing Prometheus is an eye-opening and marvelously informative look at some of the technological projects that helped shape the modern world. Thomas P. Hughes focuses on four postwar projects whose vastness and complexity inspired new technology, new organizations, and new management styles. The first use of computers to run systems was developed for the SAGE air defense project. The Atlas missile project was so complicated it required the development of systems engineering in order to complete it. The Boston Central Artery/Tunnel Project tested systems engineering in the complex crucible of a large scale civilian roadway. And finally, the origins of the Internet fostered the collegial management style that later would take over Silicon Valley and define the modern computer industry. With keen insight, Hughes tells these fascinating stories while providing a riveting history of modern technology and the management systems that made it possible.
Hughes, whose American Genesis was a Pulitzer finalist, believes that between 1950 and 1970 the military/industrial/ university complex played a far more innovative and beneficial role than is generally acknowledged. In fact, the author likens America's "technological transformations" as a "second creation; the first was mythologized in the book of Genesis." He focuses on four massive cooperative ventures: The first, Semi-automatic Ground Environment (SAGE), a collaboration involving MIT and the U.S. military, built a computer- and radar-based air-defense system. Next, University of Pennsylvania professor emeritus and historian of science Hughes examines the Atlas project, which produced America's first ICBM; Boston's Central Artery/Tunnel Project, a traffic-unclogging system of highways, tunnels and bridges scheduled for completion in 2004; and the Defense Department-funded ARPANET, an interactive computer-based information network that paved the way for the Internet. In fact, this is not just about the evolution of contemporary technology; it's also about how complex coalitions of scientists, engineers, managers and others paved the way for changes in corporate management and development. Whether the culture of these very specialized projects could make the leap to the society at large seems debatable. But this detailed study highlights the underappreciated role of managerial prowess, rather than pure science or engineering, in determining the success of large-scale technological projects. Photos. Editor, Dan Frank.