Blood in the Machine: the real story of the Luddites

I highly recommend the fantastic book Blood in the Machine by Brian Merchant, which delves deep into the history of the Luddite movement in early 19th-century England. Sounds boring? It's anything but. A tale of murder, rebellion, greed, and workers trying to hang onto their jobs and feed their families, it's as much about today as it is the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

Because it tells the story of the first time in human history that technology came for people's jobs. 

Most people (including me) think of the Luddites as being anti-technology — cranky old Mr. Wilsons shaking a fist and telling modernity to stay off the lawn. But this couldn't be further from the actual story.  

The real Luddites were weavers and other craftsmen and craftswomen who saw their whole way of life decimated by the rise of factories and automation. In just a few years, wages fell by two thirds in some cases, as unskilled workers and children replaced the skilled workers. 

Luddites were not opposed to technology but desperately looking for a way to fight back before it destroyed a way of life that had sustained generations for hundreds of years. 

The marketing blurb sums it up nicely:

The most urgent story in modern tech begins not in Silicon Valley but two hundred years ago in rural England, when workers known as the Luddites rose up rather than starve at the hands of factory owners who were using automated machines to erase their livelihoods.

The Luddites organized guerrilla raids to smash those machines—on punishment of death—and won the support of Lord Byron, enraged the Prince Regent, and inspired the birth of science fiction. 

"Inspired the birth of science fiction?" Tell me more.

See more stories about Luddites on Boing Boing.