The true story of what happened the first time machines came for human jobs, when an underground network of 19th century rebels, the Luddites, took up arms against the industrialists that were automating their work—and how it explains the power, threat, and toll of big tech today.
The most pressing story in modern tech begins not in Silicon Valley, Seattle, or even Shenzhen. It begins two hundred years ago in rural England, when working men and women rose up en masse rather than starve at the hands of the factory owners who were using machines to erase and degrade their livelihoods.
They organized guerilla raids, smashed those machines, and embarked on full-scale assaults against the wealthy machine owners. They won the support of Lord Byron, inspired Mary Shelley, and enraged the Prince Regent and his bloodthirsty government. Before it was over, much blood would be spilled—of rich and poor, of the invisible and of the powerful. This all-but-forgotten and deeply misunderstood class struggle nearly brought 19th century England to its knees.
We live now in the second machine age, when similar fears that big tech is dominating our lives and machines replacing human labor run high. We worry that technology imperils millions of jobs, robots are ousting workers from factories, and artificial intelligence will soon remove drivers from cars. How will this all reshape our economy and the way we live? And what can we do about it?
The answers lie in the story of our first machine age, when mechanization first came to British factories at the beginning of the industrial revolution. Intertwined with a lucid examination of our current age, the story of the Luddites, the working-class insurgency that took up arms against automation (at a time when it was punishable by death to break a machine), Blood in the Machine reaches through time and space to tell a story about how technology changed our world—and how it's already changing our future.
About the Author
Brian Merchant is the bestselling author of The One Device. His work has appeared in WIRED, The New York Times, The Atlantic, Harper's, The Guardian, and beyond. He is the founder of Terraform, VICE Media's speculative fiction publication, and Automaton, a special project examining AI and automation at Gizmodo. He lives in Los Angeles.
“This is an absolutely indispensable, shocking, and fascinating tale by one of today’s most important technology writers. This riveting book is as much a work of history as it is an urgent examination of our ability to resist the overwhelming changes technology is wreaking on our lives. The Luddites knew that automation, job loss and the consolidation of wealth aren’t inevitable. We can shape these forces if we’re willing to break a loom or two.”—Christopher Leonard, New York Times bestselling author of Kochland and The Lords of Easy Money
"A thrilling history and a stirring manifesto for seizing the means of production, or smashing it, when necessary. Automation has always been about turning people into machines: brainless and disposable. To be a Luddite is to demand a say in the future. It's not enough to ask what a machine does - we have to ask who it does it for and who it does it to."—Cory Doctorow, New York Times bestselling author of Little Brother and The Internet Con
“A rich and gripping account of a chronically misunderstood historical chapter, one with urgent relevance to our own time, as we once again pit humans against machines.”—Naomi Klein, New York Times Bestselling author of This Changes Everything
“Forget everything you know about the Luddites. After Blood in the Machine you’ll never look at your computer screen – or a hammer – the same way again.”—Malcolm Harris, bestselling author of Palo Alto
"An immersive, propulsive tale...an eye-opening history delivering powerful lessons for our high-tech present."—Margaret O'Mara, author of The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America
“Brian Merchant has pulled off a kind of temporal magic trick: He's told a two-century-old story with such resonant themes about technology, labor and human exploitation—and done it with such gripping, visceral detail and empathy—that it feels like it's about our future.”—Any Greenberg, author of Sandworm and Tracers in the Dark
“A riveting look into the past, and a cautionary tale for our rapidly approaching future…. Fast paced, engagingly written, and exhaustively researched, this work of history could not feel more relevant to the current moment. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.” —Kim Kelly, author of Fight Like Hell: The Untold Story of American Labor