From Publishers Weekly
Though the idea of ranking inventions might seem a little silly, Philbin's catalog of machines and tools that have changed the world proves a surprisingly absorbing read-largely because of the author's brisk, fact-filled and gossipy descriptions. His entry for invention #2, for example, not only recounts how Thomas Edison used plain-old cotton thread to invent the electric light bulb, it also reveals Edison himself to be "a work-obsessed, sometimes ruthless, egoistic man who could be obscene and a little crude." Similarly, in reading about the development of general anesthesia (invention #34), one learns that British chemist Joseph Priestly isolated the gas nitrous oxide in 1776 and that "enlightened members of society" used to hold "ether frolics" in which they reveled in the gas's intoxicating properties. Even a seemingly obvious entry like "nail" (invention #36) yields an intriguing account of the old artisan profession of "nailor." Philbin clearly has a knack for making even the driest facts yield narrative juice. Anyone in the mood for a pleasant survey of science history would do well to buy his book.
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