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The Big Idea: How Breakthroughs of the Past Shape the Future Hardcover – September 6, 2011

9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1426208102 ISBN-10: 1426208103

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"A fun read for anyone interested in how ideas connect together over time." --whatever.scalzi.com

"A big, pretty, information-dense book [to get] geeked out about." –Whatever.scalzi.com

About the Author

Timothy Ferris is the author of a dozen books, among them Seeing in the Dark, The Whole Shebang, and Coming of Age in the Milky Way, which was translated into 15 languages and named by The New York Times as among the leading books published in the twentieth century. Called "the best popular science writer in the English language" by The Christian Science Monitor and "the best science writer of his generation" by The Washington Post, Ferris has received the American Institute of Physics prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship, and his works have been nominated for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: National Geographic (September 6, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1426208103
  • ISBN-13: 978-1426208102
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 1 x 11.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #356,631 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By JMO9876 on February 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Saw this at the Library - right up my alley! Unfortunately, totally disappointed in the first chapter (technology), probably won't read any further.

I don't expect in-depth reviews of the technology, but what they present just doesn't really capture what is important in that category or is just plain wrong. I figure, if I know the technology section doesn't really capture it, what is the point of reading about the things I don't know as much about? I won't know if I'm getting an accurate picture or not.

Examples: Martin Cooper did not "invent the cell phone in 1973". The cell phone was developed by Bell Labs working with other companies. Some people might credit Marty Cooper with 'inventing' the *portable* (hand-held) cell phone (he led the design team), but again, it was a development, not an 'invention'. And cell phones don't "pass the frequency from one cell to another", neighboring cell towers have *different* frequencies to avoid interference. Actually, the call connection is 'handed-off' to the next tower, on a *different* frequency. Other information is so obtuse, that the reader really would not grasp what really happens. I had to scratch my head to figure out what they were trying to get across, it was just so far from reality.

Maybe you would say these are small points. OK, but they could have conveyed more correct and meaningful information with no more words. It just seems really sloppy to me.

Great concept, just not done well at all. Disappointing.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By bestpagefam on May 27, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Loving history, science, and timelines, I was prepared to proudly add this book to my library. Then I read it. Right off the bat, there were the head scratching minor errors - saying that Queens is a suburb of NYC, when in fact it is a borough of NYC, or that Nikola Tesla was ostracized late in life due to his eccentric personality are just two examples. Then there were the great many typos, the various poorly-chosen illustrations, and the low quality writing. Too, they couldn't make up their minds whether they were talking to well-educated amateurs, people with almost no scientific knowledge at all, or schoolchildren. Add to this the confusion of the terms 'discovered' and 'invented,' which are most definitely not interchangeable. And somebody please explain to me how you can talk about the invention of the television without giving a nod to Philo Farnsworth or have a discussion about the steam engine without once, even in passing, mentioning James Watt. James Watt!

In bewilderment, I went to the back of the book to read the bios. of those involved, and that certainly explained a lot, but not everything. None of the writers is in any way qualified. How in the world were they chosen? Were they the ones willing to work for the least pay or no pay at all, just to get their name attached to something like this? The only one with any scientific credentials is Timothy Ferris, but his only involvement I can see is that he wrote the foreword, even though his name is being used to sell the book (he's on the back overleaf as if he wrote the book and his is the only name anywhere else on the cover). Moreover, he's not even a scientist per se, but a writer on scientific topics. I wonder if they even attempted to get any historians involved?

For some inexplicable reason, his bio.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By C A Wagner on December 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What I like about this book is that it hits on technical developments from now (2011) and works backwards to the BC's in order for you to see how developments are layered upon past technical achievements. Another plus, each development is in abstract form thereby encouraging you to look up and research if you want to learn more specifics. A handy feature was spread throughout the book was where we are going from here - future fields for development. Excellent book for the technical reader who wants to brush up or keep up with a full range of technical developments in many fields and for the lay reader for the same reasons.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Miriam Stein on November 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I received this book as a gift and was delighted at how easy to read and enjoyable it was. The book is well organized and the bits of information are quick reading and easy to understand. The book is a perfect size for your coffee table and fun for guests to pick up and put down. The timeline illustrated by historical, current and futuristic photos really put the advance of science and technology into perspective. Amazing things have happened in the last few centuries! And the "Big Ideas" of what is to come in the future are perfectly fascinating in true National Geographic form.
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12 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Loyd E. Eskildson HALL OF FAME on October 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
'The Big Idea' covers six major areas (Information and Communication, Health and Medicine, Physics and the Cosmos, Chemistry and Materials, Biology and the Environment, and Transportation and Space Exploration). Each of the major areas addresses four ideas in greater details - eg. within the last major area (Transportation and Space Exploration), the material address electric cars, intelligent traffic, terraforming, and underwater exploration. Ergo, 24 big ideas. Each of those ideas, in turn, shows how the ideas, experiments, and observations that preceded it helped make it possible - eg. the electric car.

There are several major problems with this structure. 1)Everyone realizes that everything we take for granted today first required enormous developments in numerous various technologies etc. that required years, decades, even centuries to accomplish. 2)The book's span makes it impossible to provide more than superficial detail. Example - the first subsection within Information and Communication (Sending Signals) begins with the Linux operating system (1994), a strange choice that omits the enormous contributions made by multiplexing, the use of optical fibers and associated signal repeating technology. It then goes back further in time to the Internet/WWW, then Windows, GPS, PCs, encryption, cell phones, C language, and e-mail - in that order. Why the inclusion of Windows, GPS, encryption? Why e-mail prior to Internet/WWW? Regardless, it's obviously impossible to cover those topics in just seven pages - more than half taken up with illustrations. And some of the data is obviously dated - eg. why would a 2011 book cite 2003 data on the proportion of U.S. households connected to the Web?
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