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Sex, Bombs, and Burgers: How War, Pornography, and Fast Food Have Shaped Modern Technology

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  287 ratings  ·  43 reviews
A fun and fascinating exploration of modern technology, Sex, Bombs, and Burgers reveals how these three billion-dollar industries have shaped our everyday lives. It's also a chronicle of popular culture, chock-full of surprising revelations. Take a look around your home. Your microwave? A British military scientist invented its technology by accident while trying to devise ...more
Hardcover, 386 pages
Published December 20th 2011 by Lyons Press (first published January 1st 2010)
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Aug 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"When you're at war, you think about a better life. When you're at peace, you think about a more comfortable one." ~ Thornton Wilder

Be ye a hawk or a dove, there's no denying that we owe a massive amount of our technology to the military OR companies contracted to work for the military.

Your microwave? - A British military scientist invented its technology by accident while trying to devise a death ray to blow up enemy planets.

Your handheld video recorder? - Developed by the military in World
David Sarkies
Aug 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sociology
A Story of Modern Technology
29 August 2011 - Berlin

I do actually like non-fiction books and found this one very interesting. In fact I actually agree with his conclusions (though many people will probably baulk at them). His idea is that the technology that we have today has been developed through what he considers three bad things: war, porn, and fast food. While I do not consider food to be a bad industry in itself (and would even consider investing in it), I do find that war and porn are. Ho
Jan 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've wanted to read this since I saw an interview w/ Nowak on Stombo's CBC show (damn no longer living in Seattle and having access to CBC and Strombo!) but America took awhile to get this across the border.

Unlike Eric Schlosser's Reefer Madness, which is written in Schlosser's demur Eeyore outlook, Nowak delivers a very even-keeled and well-thought out dissection of food, sex, and war as the three primal urges that have driven innovation, invention, and technology through the 20th and 21st Cen
The only extent of knowledge this book can provide to you is historical anecdotes of how the large surplus of R&D funding largely provided in the post WWII boom were later ported to commercial products. Examples include video technology for porn, food preservation and costs in fast-food preparation, GPS, etc. There is no real central thesis and throughout the book you get the strong sense that this author does not really think much beyond thinking all these gadgets are just real nifty and loves ...more
Bogdan Balostin
Aug 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: public-library
This is almost the perfect book. Informative, spirited, entertaining. Some thing is missing to be a 5 stars but I can't put my finger on what.

Let's just say it was more interesting than I expected. I never studied before about all the great inventions of modern times but I've always had a hunch about where they came from or how they become popular.

If you want to know how the war affected the food industry and how the sex industry goes hand in hand with technology and children's toys, read this
Nov 14, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm just going to link to my brother's review b/c I'm tired of this book and he's way sassier than me.
Faris Moalmi
The book is quite interesting as a factual historical look at the evolution of sex, bombs, and burgers and interrelatedness of the three. It was a bit confusing at times simply because of the arrangement of the topics discussed. The author at times jumped back and forth in time and between topics. There was also some repetitiveness in some of the topics discussed.
It was a good read though. interesting and enlightening.
Iang95ify .
Oct 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Showed how computer games are influencing the soldiers of today, how porn has driven computer technology from developing jpg images to driving the growth of CDs and the internet. Looks into the industrialisation of food production and reflects that our most primal desires like sex drives our technological progress. Sex dolls will be part of our future.
Aug 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Most interesting; full of "food for thoughts". A must read. ...more
Pretty interesting idea for a book. And contained bunches of stuff I didn't know or at least didn't remember. For instance, I'd never heard about The Lena, which is basically the mother of digital imagery. And much of the details around what McDonalds and World War II did to the food industry. But at some point in the book, the author just started info dumping and the thread was lost. Perhaps less stuff and more in depth all the way through would have been better. Probably would be a reasonable ...more
Oct 14, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The writing and research is strong, and it's generally an enjoyable read with some "ah-ha" moments. I almost gave the book 4 stars (for whatever the stars are worth). In the end, the analysis of what constitutes progress struck me a bit simplistically optimistic. And I say this as someone who has employed or otherwise benefited from much of this technology. To the writer's credit, he at least adds caveats about the body count and cultural damage involved with the origins of much of what he deems ...more
Interesting and enjoyable read about how our modern technology evolved. This book is full of fun facts that are good to impress people in the kitchen at a party. (Depends on the party, though.)

I found the writing a bit repetitive, at least in the last third of the book. Although the author tries to comment on technology from different perspectives, I would have liked more critical reflection on how technology is changing our society on a deeper level.
C Voutsinas
Jul 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyable read but staggers in final chapters.
Interesting starting point to learn the history behind a various assortment of household items, though there did seem to be a bit of a political bias coming through the narrative.
Jan 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sex, Bombs and Burgers is a fascinating look into how our obsessions with war, fast food and porn have evolved our everyday technology rapidly over the 20th/21st century. WW2 affected how we cook and preserve food, porn changed the video versus betamax war, and genetically modified foods are seen by some as a way of waging war and reducing the desire in third world countries to join terrorist cells. While detailed, the book doesn’t require prior knowledge of science or engineering, as it explore ...more
May 20, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
World War Two spurred all the innovation we've all become comfortable with over the last sixty some odd years or so. If you read that statement and nodded your head yes then you should read Sex, Bombs, and Burgers. I chose to read this book because I saw the subject matter in the same vein as Fast Food Nation but the difference between the two is the personal in depth narrative.

Sex, Bombs and Burgers simply lacks the personal narrative to really drive the author's point home. That isn't to say
Guy Grobler
The book is a nice chronological review of how three human vices (or in other words our preoccupation with War, Sex and Food) have driven technological breakthroughs. This book a perfect introduction book to anyone who likes technology but has no idea where it comes from and who's developed it. However, As someone who likes gadgets and who enjoys reading, I have to say that the book didn't give me any new insights, most of what was written I either already knew or was not surprised that much to ...more
Jan 02, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fairly casual skipping over the surface review of western technological advances since the War, and how most of them (or at least of those the author deigns to mention) stem from, or were developed by, the military, food business or adult entertainment.

An entertaining and easy read (it is one of those non-fiction books written by a jobbing journalist), but one suspects the content will seem very dated in a 'Beyond 2000' kind of way very quickly.

I think he is absolutely on the money in what he
Lars Williams

An enjoyable, geeky read. The premise - that most advances in technology are driven by the military, or fast food and porn industries - is reasonable, though at times seems a little overstretched. A more honest title for the book would have been 'some cool gadgets and how they came to be', but I accept that rather lacks the punch of 'sex, bombs and burgers'. Still, very interesting nevertheless, and written in a nice, journalistic style that kept my interest up. Best on older technology (eg mi
Oscar Romero
Jan 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A most excellent and interesting read! I was quite surprised to find out about where things and products really come from and or why they were created, by whom and how these same product evolved to where they are the all common microwave oven.

It was quite insightful as well to see how the government helped develop these many products as well...and the fact that most items do move from the military on to the everyday consumer. A strong recommendation for everyone to read and learn to
Jan 02, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
An unusual choice of book to take to Israel, but that's what I did.

Writing style is a bit academic or formal or something, so it wasn't as entertaining as it might have been, but I still enjoyed the read and learned a bit along the way.

I don't think it's a shock to know that much innovation, especially in technology is driven by lust, anger and hunger. Still, the innovation of freeze-dried food in the space age is an interesting read, as is the connection between better porn and robotic limbs (C
H Wesselius
Although the book occasionally becomes merely a listing of inventions brought to you by war and porn, it keeps the reader's interest. Read it if only to understand how well integrated the military, government and business became in the US and for the chapter in which the author details how the middle east has become a living laboratory for all the new toys produced by the military. The complete integration of business, military and gov't in the US compared to the Soviet Union is astounding espec ...more
John Brooke
May 05, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: reportage
This is a well written and researched pile of hubris of the United States military domestic spin-offs that justify destroying other cultures. The positive spin-off are Micro Wave Ovens and Retort Pouch Food and other anti-natural wonders

Clearly written and a great warning to humans who still cling to the natural order of living on this wonderful blue planet, that is changing radically thanks to the stupidity of wrongfully applied science.

All the wrong thinking about our planet is succinctly summ
Jan 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those, 'history your probably don't know,' books. I'm not always into reading these kinds of things. But, occasionally, they scratch the itch. Nowak's book is particularly good at scratching that itch by drawing you into the discovery (accidental or intentional) and then describing the story to success and the overall, societal impact.

You don't have to read the book cover to cover. The discoveries are pretty insular, so, you can read at your own pace, when you're bored with anothe
Paul Cowan
Pretty bog-standard 'pop science' book, exploring how much of modern technology comes from one of three motivations: war, food, and sex. Like most 'pop science' books, it sometimes feels a little bit handwavey (random predictions presented as inevitable, hypotheses on motivations and causes presented as fact, etc). That said, it's entertaining, thought-provoking and well-written. Can't really complain. ...more
Sep 03, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
You will be surprised to see how some of the most fascinating technology we use everyday originated, sometimes(ahem) from needs you do not want to discuss. The storytelling is good, however, at places it becomes too much technical and focused on the technology itself rather than the relation between the factors(sex/bomb/burger) and the technology itself.
Aug 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a great read. It is very interesting seeing how much of our life comes from the roots of Porn, War and Fast Food. It was also very interesting to see the relationships between the three items themselves.
Tony Scott
Jan 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Heard about the book on CBC radio when the author was interviewed. It intrigued me so I went looking for it, and the search was rewarded. An absolutely excellent read!

Draws connections that I had never before thought about.

Highly recommended!
Jan 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One word: teledildonics.

Interesting read of how much of what we take for granted on a daily basis, from the internet to video games to plastics, were all created for other reasons in the war, porn and fast food industries.
Graeme W
was a good book that purely focused on the tech rather than some of the politics that occured
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Peter Nowak is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author based in Toronto. He has been writing about technology and pop culture since 1997 for publications including the Boston Globe, Sydney Morning Herald, The Globe and Mail and New Scientist magazine.

"The Rise of Real-Life Superheroes and the Fall of Everything Else" is his third book.

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