An essay upon projects
Author: Daniel Defoe
In 1697, Daniel Defoe (of Robinson Crusoe fame) wrote a series of essays on the topic of projects. This is a truly fascinating read, and provides great insights into how these grand projects (be they nation-building or war machines) were funded. Defoe was highly critical of the “projectors” – what we would call investors – but recognised that many projects had left a positive legacy on the world.
Anyone with an interest in history, project management, or new (old) ways of thinking should read this book.
“Invention of arts, with engines and handicraft instruments for their improvement, requires a chronology as far back as the eldest son of Adam, and has to this day afforded some new discovery in every age.
I shall trace the original of the projecting humour that now reigns no farther back than the year 1680, dating its birth as a monster then, though by times it had indeed something of life in the time of the late civil war. I allow, no age has been altogether without something of this nature, and some very happy projects are left to us as a taste of their success; as the water-houses for supplying of the city of London with water, and, since that, the New River — both very considerable undertakings, and perfect projects, adventured on the risk of success.
In the reign of King Charles I. infinite projects were set on foot for raising money without a Parliament: oppressing by monopolies and privy seals; but these are excluded our scheme as irregularities, for thus the French are as fruitful in projects as we; and these are rather stratagems than projects. After the Fire of London the contrivance of an engine to quench fires was a project the author was said to get well by, and we have found to be very useful. But about the year 1680 began the art and mystery of projecting to creep into the world.”
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