The Unreliable Nation


The Unreliable Nation (MIT Press, 2017) explores how two powerful and persuasive ways of understanding the modern nation — the natural and the technological — mapped onto and shaped each other in the two decades after World War II. It argues that the practices and ambitions that created the nation as a natural order were allied with attempts to understand it as a technological space, and specifically as a grouping of interconnected machines and machine behaviors. Focusing on anxieties about technological failure in what many contemporaries viewed as the most hostile nature of the mid-twentieth century — the cold-war Canadian North — the book examines how cold-war scientists and technologists struggled to link a distinctive “Northern” natural order of violent magnetic storms and spectacular auroral displays on one hand, to widespread radio disruptions throughout the Northern regions on the other. In doing so, the book illustrates how scientists, engineers, government officials, and contemporary commentators positioned those relations within a sweeping political program to remake the post-war nation, and to carve out identity, status, and power during the early Cold War.

The book is available in both hardcover and e-book: here.

“Jones-Imhotep weaves together highly original archival research and big issues: the global ionosphere, the Cold War, the polar North, national identity. If you want to sample the very best of today’s historical writing on science and technology, read this book.”
—Donald MacKenzie, Professor of Sociology, University of Edinburgh

“In The Unreliable Nation, Edward Jones-Imhotep traces how experts struggled to adapt military technologies to the exceptional environments of the Canadian North, while those same technologies changed how people perceived the formidable Arctic settings. A fascinating study of how nature, technology, and national identity became braided together during the Cold War.”
—David Kaiser, Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science, MIT

“In this fascinating study of northern radio signals, Edward Jones-Imhotep shows a keen eye for cultural history, national self-concept, and technological developments. It is an absolutely terrific contribution to our grasp of technology, a study thoroughly embedded in the project of modern nation construction, at once a cultural-political history and a deep inquiry into radio, radar, and ionosopheric science.”
—Peter Galison, Joseph Pellegrino University Professor in History of Science and of Physics at Harvard University