Rescuing Prometheus: Four Monumental Projects That Changed the Modern World

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9780679739388: Rescuing Prometheus: Four Monumental Projects That Changed the Modern World

"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.

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Review:

Building the pyramids was child's play compared with designing the Internet and other highly complex 20th-century projects. So many individuals and organizations had to come together to successfully build these more recent monumental structures that new ways of managing complex undertakings had to be invented on the spot. Eminent technology historian Thomas P. Hughes explores the development of systems engineering in Rescuing Prometheus, which focuses on four projects that are bewildering in their enormity, yet were completed successfully.

The SAGE air-defense project transformed computers from mathematical labor savers into decision-makers by proxy, and spawned the first elements of "postmodern management." Then, the Atlas missile program brought together the disparate elements of the military-industrial-university complex and demanded new, less hierarchical control over individual subprograms. This new way of thinking brought engineers such as Dean Wooldridge and Simon Ramo to prominence.

Hughes follows these developments in systems engineering closely as they were applied to ARPANET and Boston's Central Artery/Tunnel Project. Along the way those projects encountered both the simplifying synergy and maddening political slowdowns involved with not just a handful of problems, but entire communities of messy problems. Readers discouraged by seemingly inflexible barriers to solving complex social and technical problems can take heart after reading Rescuing Prometheus. This book shows that while we still can't fix the world, we're building better tools to do so every day. --Rob Lightner

From the Back Cover:

"Rescuing Prometheus is a remarkably well-detailed description of the organizing, developing, and executing of major and complex advanced technology projects that have greatly affected the society in the twentieth century. It is a particularly intelligent discussion of the leading personalities and other human factors that dominated the attainment of success in these endeavors."
--Simon Ramo, author of The Business of Science
"Hughes's research on large technical systems has made him the most influential living historian of technology. Here, he carries the story forward into the age of the Internet."
--Donald MacKenzie, author of Knowing Machines

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