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
(www.edge.org), 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 (www.edge.org), 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.