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Rescuing Prometheus: Four Monumental Projects that Changed Our World [Kindle Edition]

Thomas P. Hughes
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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

Thomas Hughes takes an in-depth look at four giant technological projects of the post-World War II era. He paints a portrait of the evolving organizational structures and ever-improving management styles that have enabled engineer managers and their teams to accomplish the near-impossible. The four projects are the Semiautomatic Ground Environment (SAGE) air defense project, the Atlas Intercontinental Ballistic Missile project, the development of ARPANET/Internet, and the construction of Boston's Central Artery/Tunnel. Each of these undertakings broke new ground, requiring new techniques to overcome daunting obstacles and foster interdisciplinary cooperation.

As a study in management, the book begins its coverage of managerial evolution with the development of systems engineering. Systems engineering reduced much of management to scientific principles and was critical to the successful interaction that created SAGE. However, later projects proved that the strict science of systems engineering failed when the system to be engineered included a large human element. Hughes shows how a flattening of the management structure and the enhanced use of diverse teams enables the continuing Boston Central Artery/Tunnel project to proceed. Not only does that plan allow for the wide diversity of human interaction but it embraces it. Project management relies on continuing input from all facets of Boston's social and political scene to shape the project as it develops.

Hughes celebrates the role that idealism, as well as creativity, has often played in technological achievements. In today's sociopolitical environment, when many people look upon military-based research and development with a jaundiced eye, it's easy to forget that such projects as SAGE and the Atlas missile were driven by an idealistic belief in the need to protect our society from what was then perceived as a clear danger from a declared enemy.

Hughes's step-by-step examination of how each project team met its challenges is both thought-provoking and insightful. If the Dilbert's-eye view of technology and management has become a bit too depressing, here's a book that reminds us that we are capable of anything. --Elizabeth Lewis


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I must take great issue with Mr. Lighter's statement that the pyramids were childsplay in comparison to the internet. I think a statement like that says much of the hubris that exists in our country today, particularly in the e-business and high tech fields. The pyramids, Aztec temples, Stonehenge, Easter Island idols, the Roman roads and aqueducts, etc. are outstanding and still extant monuments to the engineering and managerial talent of their respective civilizations. Indeed a telling comment in this book attributed to a Lockheed Martin engineer was that the civil engineers are a lot not willing to grab for the glory that accrues to those in aerospace and electronics for sucessful projects. The pyramids are still standing and will be standing in the next millienium. The internet will likely be succeded by the next step of networking and cease to exist. I am not denigrating the internet. It is a great achievment of *our* civilization. I merely advocate a sense of historical proportion!
Now that I've gotten *that* out of my system; the book. The thread Hughes attempts to weave through this book as a whole fails in my estimation. Going from the C/AT to ARPANET was an awkward transition and I doubt woolly-headed 60's counterculture ideas are really at the core of these two projects. However the chapters on SAGE, the Atlas missile program, and ARPANET were outstanding expositions of project management. What hit home for me was the depiction of the ultimate success of the visionary scientist/engineers associated with these programs, especially Licklider. I hope to be able to emulate these fellows in my own field.
Interested in science and technology? Get this book!
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Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen auf (beta) 3.5 von 5 Sternen  2 Rezensionen
4 von 4 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Precursor to software programming 13. März 2010
Von Anthony Knape - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Taschenbuch|Verifizierter Kauf
Rescuing Prometheus provides eyewitness detail into the people, thought processes, decision highlights of 4 large, monumental projects in system engineering. Along the way, as a side-effect, these events created the world of software programming. When reading this book in combination with other books such as "Digital Apollo" and the "History of the MIT Flight Computer", one gains a deep understanding of what is and why it is.

If you need this grounding, this is an excellent book. I think it's rating depends on what you want from the book. For example, I have read hundreds of books on the begining of the Arpanet. This book goes 10 years earlier and tells the story that is never told. Is that helpful? Of course it is.
9 von 24 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
2.0 von 5 Sternen Boring telling of an interesting tale 21. Mai 2001
Von Douglas Turnbull - Veröffentlicht auf
Hughes has picked out an interesting subject to write a book about--namely the rise of large scale technological projects in the post WWII world. Unfortuantely, I don't think he's enough of a writer to bring it off.
The best popular science/history hybrids bring you a sense of the excitement of the technological advance, a new knowledge of the problems faced and solutions found, and an insight into the characters and personalities behind the science. Hughes doesn't really do any of this. The book is extremely dry and reads like a laundry list of facts rather than a compelling narrative. None of the characters ever come alive. And for the most part, I didn't feel he did a very good job presenting the technological challenges faced. I think he perhaps tried to do too much with the book, telling four stories instead of one or two in the depth required to really draw the reader in.
I really wanted to like this book, especially as a former worker in operations research/systems analysis. But unfortunately, Hughes doesn't deliver on the promise that the subject has.
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