At first, I loved this book. Then I liked it. By the time I finished it I was thinking "What the heck? What a crackpot." But let me start at the beginning.
I discovered James Burke via the series Connections which has to be seen to be understood, but Iíll take a stab at explaining. Connections would start with an historical idea, say, gun powder and take you to something that it sparked and then take that idea and take you to the next thing and on and on until you end up with something like frozen pizza. (Try to catch the show if this sounds the least bit interesting because I know Iím not doing it justice.) When I found a copy of The Axemakerís Gift in the bargain section of Half Price Books for $2 I was practically doing handsprings.
The Axemakerís Gift looks at each major technological leap forward (starting with coming out of the trees) and shows how each leap forward created problems that had to be adapted to or solved by the next leap (i.e. the Industrial Revolution gave us mass merchandised things and cholera. Yipee.)
The first part of the book dealt with things like the development of writing, the growth of agriculture and cities. This part I loved. There were a lot of , "hey, I never thought of it that way" moments including my personal favorite, eye sight. In a hunter gatherer society, I would be dead. Iíve got a little less than 6 inches of uncorrected vision. I would be the cavewoman wandering up to the sabertoothed tiger saying "Nice kitty-kitty," ok? My near sightedness stems directly from the development of written language. I have spent so much time focusing on something that is just inches from my face that the muscles needed to focus on a distance have atrophied. This part also contained my very own Zen kone. It explained just what is entailed in being able to read. Once I became aware of everything that I was doing, I couldnít do it for a few minutes. I had to put the book aside.
The second part of the book dealt with the Industrial Revolution so there were fewer of those "Hey!" moments and more of the "Oh" variety. Iíve read too much about the Industrial Revolution to be too surprised by it. The most interesting part of this section for me was the discussion on time. Used to be time was measured in days, but at the start of the Industrial Revolution when bosses wanted their workers to get to work on time they had to adapt them to the idea of measuring time in hours. Like I said, "oh."
The last part of the book was annoying for 2 reasons. One reason was ecological. The authors discussed what every move you make does to the planet. It made me guilty for breathing. I donít need to know how much lead is in the air and I donít want to know how my eating patterns are causing over fishing in the Pacific. Thank you, I worry about that stuff enough when Iím not given statistics. The other reason was subjective. The last section dealt with how computers will save the world. Computers and the Internet are neat , but word saving has to be done by people not by tools. And, as Ruin13 pointed out, they spent a whole book talking about the damage technology has done in the name of progress only to hail the next technology as the antidote to everything.
So, if you want to read this book the first section is really interesting, the second bit is pretty good. Quit before you read the last section. And the illustrations are weird. Try not to look at those.