Matthew L. Jones
Reckoning with Matter
Calculating Machines, Innovation, and Thinking about Thinking from Pascal to Babbage
University of Chicago Press 2016
New Books in HistoryNew Books in Intellectual HistoryNew Books in MathematicsNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Science & TechnologyNew Books in Science, Technology, and SocietyNew Books in TechnologyNew Books Network January 23, 2017 Carla Nappi
Matthew L. Jones’s wonderful new book traces a history of failed efforts to make calculating machines, from Blaise Pascal’s work in the 1640s through the efforts of Charles Babbage in the nineteenth century, incorporating an account of both the work and relationships of scholars and artisans, and their reflections on the nature of invention. Innovative in its approach and its form, Reckoning with Matter: Calculating Machines, Innovation, and Thinking about Thinking from Pascal to Babbage (University of Chicago Press, 2016) offers a thoughtful and beautifully-written history of technology that offers an important perspective on a division between two poles of writing the history of technology: “the collective, deterministic account of inventive activity and the individualistic, heroic, creative account (7).” In Jones’s hands, we are offered a third way of understanding cultural production in early modernity, one that did not bifurcate between imitation and originality, social and individual making, or design and production. Central to the story is the history of efforts to mechanize the process of carrying ones in addition, and this fascinating problem persists as a thread through many of the projects discussed in the book. On the pages of Reckoning with Matter, readers will not only enjoy a compelling account of machine calculation through the nineteenth century, but will also find the story of a frog that tears out the eyes of a fish, a man who designed machines for making breakfast, and discussions of the significance of credit and intellectual property, modern programming, sketching, imitation, and debates over the nature of thinking. Highly recommended!