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Great Projects    by James Tobin order for
Great Projects
by James Tobin
Order:  USA  Can
Free Press, 2001 (2001)

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by David Pitt

Oh wow. Oh gosh. Golly willikers. What a book. What a splendid book. Americans have built some amazing things: Hoover Dam, the Brooklyn Bridge. They have had some really big ideas: electric lights, the Internet. But how does a vision of such immense complexity actually get turned into reality? How do you build a bridge, or a world-spanning communications system that exists only inside a series of computing machines?

Tobin, who also wrote the excellent Ernie Pyle's War, tells us these big stories by starting at the beginning with the people who dreamed the dreams: the men who conceived the Hoover Dam; Thomas Edison, who imagined a world lit by electricity; a scientist you probably never heard of who had the ridiculous idea that you could link the world by computer.

There are eight projects here, eight ideas whose revolutionary brilliance made them seem impossible. Tobin's text is fluid and exciting, and the book is full of illustrations: photographs, documents, paintings, schematics. Like an episode of television's NOVA, or those wonderful documentaries on The Learning Channel, we follow a project from conception to completion: the big ideas, the dead ends, the ups and downs, the near misses.

I don't know about you, but this book made me wonder if it was too late to go back to school, study all those things I wished I had studied when I had the chance, come up with an idea no one else has ever had, and change the world. Instead, I guess I'll brew up a cup of coffee, leaf through Great Projects some more, and marvel at the wondrous things that are possible ...

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