Margin Notes



The Mysterious Case of Rudolf Diesel: Genius, Power, and Deception on the Eve of World War I by Douglas Brunt is a succinct chronology of the Second Industrial Revolution, highlighting the pursuits of its representative cast of preeminent innovators, political figures, and business tycoons, all striving in a tense rat race to outdo and outlast one another. Brunt’s topical chronicle follows the fascinating life of Bavarian inventor and mechanical engineer Rudolph Diesel in his tiring ambition to create a world less reliant on the petrochemicals and coal which then and now corrupt our fragile biosphere, and, in doing so, developing the engine that bears his name today. Raised in the smog-filled industrial centers of Europe, Diesel became disenchanted with the polluting and inefficient methods of production of his day and thus sought, with matchless intellect and dogged determination, to produce a mechanism in which the type of fuel could be universalized, and the fuel itself utilized more efficiently. His untimely death at sea in September 1913 lends considerable weight to the suspicion that the great coveters of political power and industry, such as the Rockefellers and Hohenzellerns, had succeeded in maintaining the status quo and therefore the continued proliferation of fossil fuels into the modern age.

For those young adult students so willing to delve into this admittedly extensive historical narrative, they are sure to be gripped by the genius and forward-thinking nature of a man now inextricably connected to his now problematic namesake. Brunt presents compelling evidence that Diesel in fact aspired for a future emancipated from the contaminating sources of power that drove humanity into modernity, a sentiment that most of us hold unequivocally today. As a source of historical understanding, students will be inundated with cases of intrigue, sabotage, coercion, and power politics, but also conversely collaboration, innovation, progressivism, and even love. I strongly recommend The Mysterious Case of Rudolf Diesel to any student with an interest in history, technology, politics, and/or economics. This latest of Brunt’s work appeals to a wide audience and engrosses the reader with a lead so thoroughly buried that one cannot help but read from start to finish.

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