Oh, the humanity! Radio reporter Herbert Morrison's words on witnessing the destruction of the Hindenburg are etched in our collective memory. Yet, while the Hindenburg ,like the Titanic ,is a symbol of the techlogical hubris of a bygone era, we seem to have forgotten the lessons that can be learned from the infamous 1937 zeppelin disaster.Zeppelins were steerable balloons of highly flammable, explosive gas, but the sheer magic of seeing one of these behemoths afloat in the sky cast an irresistible spell over all those who saw them. In Monsters , Ed Regis explores the question of how a techlogy w so completely invalidated (and so fundamentally unsafe) ever managed to reach the high-risk level of development that it did. Through the story of the zeppelin's development, Regis examines the perils of what he calls pathological techlogies ,inventions whose sizeable risks are routinely minimized as a result of their almost mystical allure.Such foolishness is t limited to the industrial age: newer examples of pathological techlogies include the US government's planned use of hydrogen bombs for large-scale geoengineering projects the phemenally risky, expensive, and ultimately abandoned Superconducting Super Collider and the exotic interstellar propulsion systems proposed for DARPA's present-day 100 Year Starship project. In case after case, the romantic appeal of foolishly ambitious techlogies has blinded us to their shortcomings, dangers, and costs.Both a history of techlogical folly and a powerful cautionary tale for future techlogies and other grandiose schemes, Monsters is essential reading for experts and citizens hoping to see new techlogies through clear eyes.
Ed Regis is a longtime science writer and the author of seven books, including What is Life?, The Info Mesa, and Who's Got Einstein's Office?. Most recently he was co-author, with George Church, of Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves.