A Culture of Improvement: Technology and the Western Millennium. By Robert Friedel. MIT Press. $39.95.
Victory of the West: The Great Christian-Muslim Clash at the
Robert Friedel has a fascinating idea: that the Western world’s belief system can be in large part defined as a “culture of improvement.” That is, the constant pursuit of better ways to do things accounts for the ever-increasing technological prowess of the West – and for its negative side, its ever-rising ability to destroy things (including its own culture). Friedel, a history professor at the
It can be argued (and has been) that modern Western technological superiority over the Islamic world rests precisely on the Western “culture of improvement” (even if those words are not used), compared with Islam’s continued reliance on received wisdom. Indeed, the rise of Islam in the 7th century was a major reason for the strengthening of counter-Islamic rulers, such as Charles Martel (of