As a gamer with an undergraduate degree in Physics, I really enjoy technology in my games whether it is medieval siege engineering, steampunk steam engines, cyberpunk cybernetics, or hard science fiction FTL ships. When the technology has a basis in hard science facts and theories, I am even more interested. So, when I saw this book on the shelf at Goodwill, I was very interested. I thought this book could help with some of my RPG campaign designs and as a reference for work on freelance projects. The back cover text pulled me in quickly.
With a minimum of technical detail, and in highly readable style, this book presents a fascinating overview of the development of engineering in Western civilization, from its origins to the twentieth century. The book is organized around the authors’ division into eight primary events:
Food-producing revolution (6000 – 3000 B. C.)
Appearance of urban society (3000 – 2000 B. C.)
Birth of Greek science (600 – 300 B. C.)
Revolution in power (Middle Ages)
Rise of modern science (seventeenth century)
Steam and the Industrial Revolution (eighteenth century)
Electricity and the beginnings of applied science (nineteenth century)
Age of automatic control (twentieth century)
Well, I have mixed thoughts on this book after reading it. If you are looking for a general overview of the history of engineering and technology progress, then this book would help you out. If you want highly detailed and accurate depictions of the engineering principles, then this book is likely going to frustrate you. First, you have to realize this book was originally written in 1956, and the current reprints are “unabridged, unaltered republications of the work originally published.” So, this book does not have any engineering breakthroughs or new knowledge applied to old principles learned after 1956. The book also is a little loose on its engineering facts and application. Not outright incorrect, but the details are lacking in places, so you miss some scientific principles.
I still feel I would recommend the book for general reference for RPGs and Tabletop Games if you can find it cheap at a Goodwill or used bookstore. It does a decent job offering an overview of engineering and technology and their historical impacts, especially if you do not have a highly technical background and just want to understand the flow and impact of technology throughout Western history. This would be especially useful for historical games and alternate history games that rely heavily on technology in their themes such as steampunk and dieselpunk.
What books do you reference for technology and engineering in your games?