Selected Works

Books
Humanity remaking itself through technology
The self-cancelling, self-frustrating side of human ingenuity, and what to do about it.
Magazine Articles
A review of James R. Chiles, Inviting Disaster: Lessons from the Edge of Technology in Harvard Magazine
How sitting customs have affected the human body
Are big structures harbingers of decline?
Harvard's debt to the shoe industry
The Harvard Society of Fellows, a history and personal appreciation
Books/Essays
The U.S. military-industrial complex's surprising debt to France.

Books/Essays

Our Own Devices: The Past and Future of Body Technology
The missing side of the history of technology has been the coevolution of technologies and techniques, devices and skills. Examining the everyday objects that help -- and impede -- our interaction with the world, Our Down Devices offers a fresh look at how technology for better and worse helps make us human.

Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences
There are a number of excellent books on technological disasters, costs, risks, and tradeoffs. Why Things Bite Back looks at how we sometimes cancel out our very reasons for developing new things. It argues not for refusal of innovation, but for a more discerning approach to change that has appealed across disciplines and political outlooks.

Tech Speak: How to Talk High Tech
Probably the only book with blurbs from both W.V. Quine and George Carlin, Tech Speak had the courage to call a spade a geomorphological modification implement. Out of print despite a two-page spread in People Magazine, Tech Speak awaits an enhanced and augmented iteration.

When Systems Fracture
On the tendency of advanced technology to promote self-deception

A review of James R. Chiles, Inviting Disaster: Lessons from the Edge of Technology in Harvard Magazine Originally written in summer 2001 and rewritten after September 11, the review examines the relationship between accidental and terroristic hazards. Chiles'points about "high-reliability organizations" are especially relevant after the August 2003 electric grid outage.

The Life of Chairs
Chairs are in many experts' view unhealthy, yet they have been displacing other seating customs around the world. That is partly because well-being and comfort have been less important than image and self-concept, even in the high modernism of the twentieth century

The Xanadu Effect
Grand works always seem to go up just before the rulers, governments, and corporations that built them start to go down. Is there something in the cycle of human affairs that haunts the monumental? Or can the building of big things actually begin new eras and create social cohesion, as some sociologists and archaeologists have argued? An essay on bigness and business.

The French Connections
Interchangeable parts, ultralethal rifles and ordnance, aircraft and automotive design -- so much quintessentially American technology originated in France. And, even less expectedly, vice versa.

Lasting Impressions
At least through 1949, the largest single gift to Harvard was made by Gordon McKay, a founder of the United Shoe Machine Company, one of the most influential, powerful, and controversial trusts of the turn of the century. Why did this self-educated multimillionaire choose Harvard rather than M.I.T.? How did Harvard graduates and faculty members serve both sides in the U.S. government's decades-long antitrust case against the Shoe? What was the link between USM, the early Bauhaus, and Harvard? A story for connoisseurs of the unintended.

Environment for Genius
A personal and historical view of another grand educational experiment with largely unintended consequences.