January 7, 2007

Book Short: Unsung Heroes

Book Short:  Unsung Heroes If you like “entrepreneurship by analogy” books, you’ll like The Innovators:  The Engineering Pioneers Who Made America Modern, by David Billington.  I have to admit some bias here — Professor Billington was my favorite teacher and senior thesis advisor at Princeton (I almost majored in civil engineering because of him), and this book is one of a number he’s written that are outgrowths of his most popular courses at Princeton.  And while there’s no substitute for the length or energy of his lectures, the book works. The book is basically a person-focused engineering history of America from 1776-1883.  Billington talks about four classes of engineering product:  public structures (mostly bridges), machines that produced power, networks like the railroads and telegraphs, and processes like steel manufacturing. His approach is to acknowledge that the Americans innovators couldn’t do much without the right context:  learnings from their counterparts in Britain, a supportive government here at home, and abundant raw materials and capital.  But with that backdrop in place, Billington tells the tale of a number of the inventions that built our modern society with a focus on the engineers who got things right.  While some of them are familiar […]