Nuts and Bolts of the Past

Taking his lead from the recent historiography of Fernand Braudel, David Freeman Hawke presents a history of the technology of everyday life during the period of the early republic up to the time of the Civil War. NUTS AND BOLTS OF THE PAST attempts to redress current notions of scientific and technological advances in this country by delving more deeply into the process of technological innovation while avoiding the hero-worshiping histories of the past. Hawke is not interested in exploring the lives of a few great innovators, as has long been the format adopted by popular history; instead, he pursues the development of particular processes, which often involves introducing his reader to those unknown inventors who did the real work even though they did not reap the fame or the rewards.

As a revisionist piece of history, NUTS AND BOLTS OF THE PAST makes for interesting reading. As anecdotal history, the book also holds the reader’s attention. The book suffers, however, from the very approach that it adopts. At times the book seems to lack a central thread or idea upon which to hang the numerous interesting but often seemingly disconnected points. Perhaps this is a relatively insignificant criticism, however, when one considers the amount of information which the author has unearthed and which will be new and insightful to the reader.

Hawke is able to explode a number of myths about technological development and industrial growth in the United States during the period covered by his book, and he presents an eminently readable chronicle, which is well written and amply supported by fascinating anecdotes and documentation. For anyone interested in the American experience, this volume offers a unique perspective.