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The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 1, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (June 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400067057
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400067053
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #289,794 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The Industrial Revolution inspires more academic theories than absorbing narratives. Rosen, however, crafts one from subplots that connect with primitive industrialism's premier symbol: the steam engine. Ardent about historical technology, Rosen modulates his mechanical zeal with contexts underscoring that Thomas Newcomen and James Watt did not operate in a social vacuum. Fixing on patents as one prerequisite to their inventions, Rosen describes intellectual property's English legal and philosophical origins as he segues to Newcomen's and Watt's backgrounds. A degree of social mobility in eighteenth-century Britain enabled their rise, but it was the specific economic situations in mining and textiles to which they responded that ensured it. These business matters provide Rosen with storytelling opportunities that feature capital investors, scientists studying heat, and over time, innovators who improved the steam engine from a stationary to a mobile power source: Rocket, the famous railroad engine built in 1829. Readers who like enthused authors will like Rosen, and fans of his Roman history Justinian's Flea (2007) augment their number. --Gilbert Taylor

Review

"The book has a crackling energy to it, often as riveting as it is educational." ---Los Angeles Times --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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This book is very nicely done, well written and loaded with fascinating details.
Paul Eckler
Never-the-less, I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the history of technology and the industrial revolution.
dave ferree
The book tended to jump around too much and it was hard to follow the thread of some chapters.
Philm

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

90 of 107 people found the following review helpful By G. Poirier on June 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The amount of information contained in this book is truly astounding. Just about every aspect of inventing that one can imagine is touched upon here, at least to some degree. These include but are not limited to: legal issues, social and political matters, psychology, even religion and philosophy. The reader is also introduced to a myriad of people who have contributed, in some way or other, to the Industrial Revolution. The most significant invention that is followed throughout is the steam engine. But many other inventions are also discussed such as: devices to address certain mining problems, making various types of iron, collecting and processing cotton and silk, various devices to improve upon prior inventions, etc. The amount of information contained in this book is truly encyclopaedic; the author's efforts in putting it all together must have been astronomical.

Unfortunately, despite all of these positive features, the book was not at all what I expected. I assumed that a book recounting the history of the steam engine would be rich in technical detail - either with plenty of illustrative sketches to complement the text or written in prose so rich in detail that sketches would be unnecessary; unfortunately I misjudged. The technical details that are given in the text are, in too many cases, much too brief to allow a technical reader to get a good appreciation of how a given device worked or what the technical issues were. And the few sketches that are included (nine in the entire book) are reproductions from centuries ago and do not add much to help the reader's technical comprehension. In addition, I found that the great many individuals that are introduced throughout, along with their contributions, eventually become hard to keep track of.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Watt on July 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book is about a major turning point in human history, and why it happened. By most measures of human advancement, the world pretty much stayed the same between the second and eighteenth centuries, and then something happened. Rosen tackles a question that has obsessed historians ever since--why it happened in England in the 18th c. The book is worth reading because Rosen is a good writer, both in terms of storytelling and explaining science, technology, and law, and because the book will help you to understand how societies can encourage innovation and therefore growth. If I had a complaint, it's that the author is so into his story that he occasionally followed tributaries that I didn't find interesting. But I found it pretty easy to skip over those parts without losing the thread.
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35 of 41 people found the following review helpful By C. Hawkins on July 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I got pulled into this by a friend. We had liked Rosen's earlier book: Justinian's Flea Justinian's Flea: Plague, Empire, and the Birth of Europe. His new book brings the same, easy to read style to another history subject. Just reading the first chapter got me right away. You can read the other reviews here...

But what really bothers me is that several people have voted only one stars on this book. They are not voting on the quality of the read, but on the pricing of the book by the publisher for the electronic version. Well, I bought the electronic version, and I saved money verses the hardcover. Yes, it is higher than many e-books, but that is not the fault of the author. Come on, rate the book on its merit.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Richard Jackson on August 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This study of the industrial revolution is not just a listing of the inventions that led to the perfection of the steam engine. It goes to the background of legal ideas and structure of society in the 17th century which allowed invention to flourish in Britain (and later in New England). As an example, the author discusses the origin of patent law in England in the mid 1600s -- there was a key legal decision based on the new notion that an idea could be property and therefore given protection under the law.

The book is nicely written with both erudition and a gentle humor.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Crosslands on September 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Rosen has written a very interesting and well written book on the invention and improvement of the steam engine. Basically Mr. Rosen covers the period form the seventeenth century to the first part of the eighteenth century. Mr. Rosen ends his discussion with the development of the Rocket steam locomotive by George and Robert Stephenson and Richard Trevithick.

Mr. Rosen demonstrates that the social and legal climate in England in this period favored new inventions. The legal system, in part due to the efforts of jurist Edward Coke, protected intellectual property by patent rights. Thus inventors were much less likely to have their ideas and products stolen by other men who had done nothing to develop the invention. Thus inventors could prosper materially as well as socially from their efforts. Moreover inventing new techniques and new products was socially acceptable.

The result was that inventions occurred more and more often over the time interval. And new inventions in one product field added to the demand for and encouraged inventions in other fields. For example John Wilkinson's method of boring iron tubes greatly enhanced the production of steam engine equipment. Numerous other inventions fed the development of steam power.

Mr. Rosen goes into great and interesting detail about the inventors and inventions. For example, Mr. Rosen provides much detail on the life of James Watt, his birth near Glasgow Scotland, his work as a clockmaker and instrument maker in London, his study of the Newcomen steam engine, his new steam engine with a separate condenser and use of vacuum space, and his fertile partnership with Matthew Boulton. Mr.
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