Happy Apocalypse

Happy Apocalypse:A History of Technological Risk

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How the mess we are in started. How risk, disasters and pollution were managed and made acceptable during the ‘industrial revolution’

Why do we accept pollution in the name of progress? Why has the pursuit of modernity permitted increasing exposure to environmental catastrophe. In Happy Apocalypse, Jean-Baptiste Fressoz - co-author of the highly successful The Shock of the Anthropocene - shows how debates on risk and profit in the Industrial Revolution set the foundations of our own precarious times.

This book plunges us into the controversies and struggles around vaccines and factories, railways and urban infrastructure, steam engines and chemical industries. Presenting the dangers of progress as everyday hazards to be tolerated. For instance, the 'polluter pays principle' is often seen as a 1970s invention aimed at curbing pollution. In fact, it was established in the early 19th century under the pressure of industrial capitalists themselves and it replaced a far more stringent way of regulating pollution based on police.

Furthermore Fressoz argues that the determination of risk management has been used to suppress protests and alternative models of economic advancement.

Reviews

  • Happy Apocalypse offers a compelling, powerful and very timely critique of the claim that we live in a period unprecedentedly marked by an awareness of technological crises and environmental risks. Fressoz shows instead, and in striking detail, how in France and Britain in the decades around 1800, in major fields of concern such as public health, industrial safety and environmental impact, calculations of risk and estimates of safety were both impressively widespread and energetically debated. The book offers a brilliantly original analysis of how industrialists and entrepreneurs, legislators and scientists, public lobbies and private interests, all made sense of the processes that accompanied the establishment of new kinds of capitalist society and their models of welfare, profit and security. Happy Apocalypse will be required reading for anyone concerned with the ways in which current crises of safety and survival can be better understood in their proper historical settings.

    Simon Schaffer, University of Cambridge
  • This book is a luminous enquiry into how society was remade to acquiesce in the risks presented by new medical procedures, new forms of lighting and industrial waste. Instead of fables of ignorance, a naïve belief in progress, or ridiculous opposition to the novel Fressoz shows how, in nineteenth-century France in particular, a powerful environmental consciousness was remoulded through complex political and juridical processes to make possible the use of the new. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in how the modern world changes, and a refreshing antidote to the banalities and mendacities which still dominate our discussions of technical and medical change.

    David Edgerton, King's College London