I have engineers and craftsmen in my heritage, I have been an engineer for decades, and now I manage a team of engineers. Engaged in a profession based in technology, I find myself overly familiar with the circumstances of my own arrival in this place and yet woefully ignorant of how we as a society have found ourselves here. Engineers create the machines and systems that shape and dominate our lives. They in turn are driven by a relentless onrush of information, science and technology.
This state of affairs would be a surpassing confusion to anybody who might have been dropped into its midst as an adult; the only way we all cope is to have grown up in it. But, how did it arise? Why is it like this? Is this the only way that it has to be?
I recently have been reading the more recent works of Neal Stephenson, who makes the onset of the scientific method (in Quicksilver) a much more human endeavor than any of my high school or college textbooks ever did. However, I find myself reading it with an encyclopedia open alongside. I tend to use Encarta, despite it's poor reputation among people who, like me, grew up with the Britannica in our father's library, because it has such a nice timeline feature.
This combination of adventure novel and encyclopedia has much to recommend it for the independent scholar. I wish that I had been able to use this technique in school..