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I started reading this book with great anticipation and excitement. I disagree with most reviewers, however, on the "excellence" of this account based on two observations:
1) In several long
sections, Tainter seems to confuse quantity with complexity. As I understand it complexity has to do with the network interrelationships that exist among components of a society (or anything else for that matter.) Often, though, the text reads as though growing any single component is equivalent to an increase in complexity. This is inconsistent at the least and erroneous at worst.
2) In discussion of science and technology, Tainter would have us believe that while the discoveries of Einstein and Darwin are examples of science at little expenditure, the consequent growth of activity in physics and biology illustrate that as progress is made at ever increased cost, the subsequent discoveries are of considerably less value than the revolutionary initial ones. According to what metric?
This I believe is simply careless thinking. Take the case of the transistor. I don't know the numbers but I don't think I need an economics training to realize that the investment in research that resulted in its invention is infinitesimal compared to the value to society in economic terms that ensued from this invention.
In summary, the terms are not clearly defined and then applied consistently, and in at least this one example the conclusions are far from convincing.
Jorge Willemsen
 

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