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How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World 1st Edition
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“A great science writer.” — Bill Clinton, speaking at the Health Matters conference
“Mr. Johnson, who knows a thing or two about the history of science, is a first-rate storyteller.” — The New York Times
“You’re apt to find yourself exhilarated…Johnson is not composing an etiology of particular inventions, but doing something broader and more imaginative…I particularly like the cultural observations Johnson draws along the way…[he] has a deft and persuasive touch…[a] graceful and compelling book.” — The New York Times Book Review
“Johnson is a polymath. . . . [It’s] exhilarating to follow his unpredictable trains of thought. To explain why some ideas upend the world, he draws upon many disciplines: chemistry, social history, geography, even ecosystem science.” — Los Angeles Times
“Steven Johnson is a maven of the history of ideas... How We Got to Now is readable, entertaining, and a challenge to any jaded sensibility that has become inured to the everyday miracles all around us.” — The Guardian
“[Johnson's] point is simple, important and well-timed: During periods of rapid innovation, there is always tumult as citizens try to make sense of it....Johnson is an engaging writer, and he takes very complicated and disparate subjects and makes their evolution understandable.” — The Washington Post
“Through a series of elegant books about the history of technological innovation, Steven Johnson has become one of the most persuasive advocates for the role of collaboration in innovation….Mr. Johnson's erudition can be quite gobsmacking.” – The Wall Street Journal
“An unbelievable book…it’s an innovative way to talk about history.” — Jon Stewart
"What makes this book such a mind-expanding read is Johnson’s ability to appreciate human advancement as a vast network of influence, rather than a simple chain of one invention leading to another, and result is nothing less than a celebration of the human mind." — The Daily Beast
“Fascinating…it’s an amazing book!” — CBS This Morning
“A full three cheers for Steven Johnson. He is, by no means, the only writer we currently have in our era of technological revolution who devotes himself to innovation, invention and creativity but he is, far and away, the most readable.” — The Buffalo News
"The reader of How We Got to Now cannot fail to be impressed by human ingenuity, including Johnson’s, in determining these often labyrinthine but staggeringly powerful developments of one thing to the next." — San Francisco Chronicle
"A rapid but interesting tour of the history behind many of the comforts and technologies that comprise our world." — Christian Science Monitor
"How We Got to Now... offers a fascinating glimpse at how a handful of basic inventions--such as the measurement of time, reliable methods of sanitation, the benefits of competent refrigeration, glassmaking and the faithful reproduction of sound--have evolved, often in surprising ways." — Shelf Awareness
"[Johnson] writes about science and technology elegantly and accessibly, he evinces an infectious delight in his subject matter...Each chapter is full of strange and fascinating connections." — Barnes and Noble Review
"From the sanitation engineering that literally raised nineteenth-century Chicago to the 23 men who partially invented the light bulb before Thomas Edison, [How We Got to Now] is a many-layered delight."— Nature Review
“A highly readable and fascinating account of science, invention, accident and genius that gave us the world we live in today.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
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Top Customer Reviews
I recommend this book to anyone interested in history, science and technology and to anyone interested in the strange interconnected tales of how the things that we take for granted were developed. My only minor quibble is that the book is a bit light on technical details. For instance, it discusses pendulum clocks and then pocket watches, but does not describe the difference in their operation, or anything about the development of naval chronometers. I would have liked a bit more technical detail, but this was not a big enough problem to reduce my rating from 5-stars.
What is in the book -
The book describes six innovations that follow the author's contention that - "An innovation, or cluster of innovations, in one field end up triggering changes that seem to belong to a different domain altogether." This idea can best be understood by examining the six innovation chapters and the short conclusion chapter that make up the book. These chapters are as follows:
1. Glass - The first innovation, the development of glass and how it impacted society, starts with the natural pieces of glass found in the Libyan Desert, and goes on to how men eventually learned to make glass.Read more ›
The stories of invention and how society has been changed is fascinating. For instance, ice cutting from frozen lakes leads to cooling machines to population growth in areas of hot climate. Clocks and railroads give us time zones and standardized time based on atomic transitions, not on the rotation of the Earth. The author does miss the role played by glass (silicon oxide) in integrated circuit chips, where the glass is used as an insulator. There are few other omissions in this book.
In the section on light, the author reveals a little-known secret about invention. Edison's most important innovation was the organization of groups of scientists and engineers to find solutions to technical problems. Of my 118 issued United States patents, there are a small number for which I am the sole inventor. These represent the flash-of-genius type of invention. The majority were inventions-by-committee, where typically three or four people of different backgrounds combined their knowledge to come up with new solutions.
The final chapter deals with the work of Ada Lovelace (software), and Charles Babbage (hardware), who designed the first programmable computing machine. This short section could easily have been expanded into a complete chapter on calculation. However, the author uses the story to illustrate an unusual invention that preceded its enabling technology.
The book is full of illustrations and interesting anecdotes. It does a good job of telling the story of technology development and how it can transform the way we live.
Working from a premise outlined in the introduction, "How We Got to Now" provides an intriguing look at history not from the point of view of human accounts -- which would factor in human events like war and political upheavals -- but rather the story that would be recorded by a robot historian. (Or, as Johnson says, what you would get "if a lightbulb had written the story of the past 300 years".) This book is a readable, satisfying,fascinating tour de force long-zoom view of technologies that proved revolutionary -- and how they got that way.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
If you have ever been curious about how stuff works, like I am, you will probably enjoy this book. The Author takes 6 very general topics: Glass, Cold, Sound, clean, time, and... Read morePublished 3 days ago by P. M.
Fascinating read that takes you on a journey thru time to see how it all fits together. You'll never look at these things the same way again.Published 4 days ago by Adam H.
This book keeps repeating the same idea over and over.... It's a boring read and the information/ideas aren't at all in depth.Published 7 days ago by Digital_Bookworm
Some interesting parts but mostly boring. Also, it is missing some major details which are very important to mention if writing book like this one!!Published 8 days ago by Amazon Customer
Concise and compelling. Its strength was in showing a unique perspective of subtle, unexpected influences on technological innovation. Favorite read this year so far!Published 16 days ago by Madeline W.
Excellent reading; concise trajectory of early research on the six innovations to modern, everyday applications. Read morePublished 18 days ago by jab2