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The Greatest Inventions of the Past 2,000 Years Hardcover – January 12, 2000

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (January 12, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 068485998X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684859989
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,642,436 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

What's the greatest human invention of the last two millennia? The Greatest Inventions of the Past 2,000 Years grew out of a Web-site project called Edge (, wherein the invited intelligentsia recorded their deep thoughts on a variety of topics. In 1998, editor John Brockman asked them to choose the creation that most shaped our world since year 1. For this book, Brockman picked a hundred of the most compelling entries from intellectual celebrities like Stewart Brand, Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, and Murray Gell-Mann.

The printing press received a number of votes, as did the computer and television. Other entries were more eclectic: organized science, the contraceptive pill, the gun, or even hay. Chairs and stairs. Anesthesia. Cities. Each invention is justified by a short essay, some of which read like... well, Web-site prose. Also, a glaring sexism flaws the book--Brockman chose fewer than 10 women's submissions. Nevertheless, Greatest Inventions is a worthy addition to your millennial reading list, and lots of fun besides. --Therese Littleton

From Publishers Weekly

Physicist Freeman Dyson says it's hay; biologist Brian C. Goodwin nominates the printing press; and virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier suggests that it's the human ego. Whether or not readers agree with any of the more than 100 contributors to this nifty volume about the greatest invention of the past two millennia, anyone who cracks open the book's covers is in for an intellectual treat. Brockman, perhaps best known as an agent for science writers but also as the author or editor of several books (Digerati, etc.), here presents, with additions and changes, writings on that subject posted on his Web site, Edge (, by a host of inspired minds (though perhaps not, as the jacket crows, "today's leading thinkers"; there's a paucity of artists and religious professionals represented, for example). The contributions, which run from a couple of sentences to several pages, are grouped into "How We Live" and "How We Think." Though there appears to be some chronological ordering within each section, the essays are also arranged to illuminate one another. Some are obvious--three thinkers in a row nominate calculus--while others are startling for their unexpectedness (social commentator Douglas Rushkoff suggests the eraser, which lets us "fix" our mistakes) or their ingenuity (theoretical psychologist Nicholas Humphrey names reading glasses, which "have effectively doubled the working life of anyone who reads or does fine work--and have prevented the world from being ruled by people under forty." Together, the essays challenge and delight, offering flash after flash of insight. Brockman's own suggestion is our "Distributed Networked Intelligence"--"the collective, externalized mind," of which this at once amiable and arresting book is a notable manifestation. (Jan.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 40 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 28, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This book is a fascinating collection of ideas from some of the best scientific thinkers alive today. The range of inventions is extreme. Cliff Pickover, author of "Surfing Through Hyperspace," selected paper as the most important invention. Physics professor Freeman Dyson, author of "The Sun, the Genome, and the Internet" selected "hay" as the most important invention. There are many surprises in this book and much to be learned.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By David Mausner on February 16, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This compilation offers no useful insights about invention. The editor solicited comments from the contributors by e-mail. They evidently replied quickly, and made no serious attempt to consider the effect of technology on civilization, nor the effect of their own words on readers.
Many of the famous contributors make weak arguments based on blatantly false readings of history and astounding ignorance of science.
It is difficult to accept, for example, that the Thermos Bottle is one of the greatest accomplishments of this era. One sage justifies this choice on the basis of an old joke; to ice the cake, a nobel-prize-winning physicist simply concurs with, essentially, "me too".
The editor demanded no thoughtfulness of his correspondents, and mostly received none.
I purchased this volume hoping to learn the origins of inventions, inventors, and inventiveness. Luckily, hope is eternal.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Dan Derby on February 22, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The problem with this book is that it isn't a book at all. It is a vanity publication of The Edge Foundation. Actually, it is a series of emails that the Foundation's members sent in response to one of their "great questions" series. These examples were chosen by John Brockman, a literary agent who coincidentally represents many of these same people.
A quick sampling: Stuart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog and corporate strategist; John Maddox, physicist and editor emeritus of Nature magazine; Marvin Minsky, mathematician and founder of MIT's AI Lab; John Rennie, editor-in-chief of Scientific American; Leon Lederman, Nobel laureate and director emeritus of Fermi Nation Accelerator Laboratory; and Michael Nesmith, business person.
This impressive list is weighted toward the scientific and medical arts with a goodly sampling of science journalists. Bet you didn't know that Michael Nesmith, past member of the Monkeys singing group, was a high status "intellect", did you? He's a member. There's also some guy named Jeff Bezos in it.....
In the year 2000, there was an over abundant inventory of TV shows, magazine articles and coffee shop conversations devoted to nominating the greatest events and innovations of the last century. For the bold, the debate was expanded to the last two thousand years. Suggestions varied since what constitutes greatness depends on view point. Many took up the challenge which generated this volume. It demonstrates once again that there's nothing like a good argument with famous names to sell books.
The book is divided into comments (and BIOS) on "How We Live . . . ", observations on the nominated innovation's impact on the physical world, the printing press, classical music and "How We Think . . .
Read more ›
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By Anand Rangarajan on November 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The book is basically just a summary of the exchanges on the Edge mailing list. All the writers have spent some time in their life, thinking about some aspect of humanity in great detail, and all of them have at least published two books.

It made me think a lot about life, and many entries in the book are very unobvious. Of course, the average reader will probably not agree with many of the writers' thoughts or opinions. Nevertheless, I would recommend anyone to quickly browse the book to see what are the ideas that have influenced humanity so immensely in the last 2k years.
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