For the past few months, I have been engaged in the (stupidly) ambitious project of reading Sigfried Giedion's 1948 tome Mechanization Takes Command: A Contribution to Anonymous History. Much like my last self-assigned homework reading, The Prodigious Builders, the author's non-native English and the age of the book makes for some unconventional prose. Gideon traces the history of manufacturing from the earliest rumblings of the Industrial Revolution on through World War II, covering every conceivable process along the way. For instance, he goes into not only mechanized reaping, but grain milling and bread-baking and packaging and preservatives and so on. The detail is exhaustive, well-illustrated with patent drawings.
Giedion was born in 1888, and his lifetime spanned many of the great leaps in manufacturing technology that have made modern life possible. He was able to document many of those changes in real time, writing and lecturing extensively on the growth of modern design, the Bauhaus, and architects of the International Style. Since his death, in 1968, technology has continued its relentless march forward, but many of the processes he chronicled in Mechanization Takes Command have remained archaic. Minerals still must be wrenched from the earth and refined into something useful with great heat and pressure. Today, we've replaced some of that brutal labor with machines, or even robots, but the basic story is unchanging.Read More