“A house of wonders itself. . . . Wonderland inspires grins and well-what-d'ya-knows” —The New York Times Book Review
From the New York Times–bestselling author of How We Got to Now and Farsighted, a look at the world-changing innovations we made while keeping ourselves entertained.
This lushly illustrated history of popular entertainment takes a long-zoom approach, contending that the pursuit of novelty and wonder is a powerful driver of world-shaping technological change. Steven Johnson argues that, throughout history, the cutting edge of innovation lies wherever people are working the hardest to keep themselves and others amused.
Johnson’s storytelling is just as delightful as the inventions he describes, full of surprising stops along the journey from simple concepts to complex modern systems. He introduces us to the colorful innovators of leisure: the explorers, proprietors, showmen, and artists who changed the trajectory of history with their luxurious wares, exotic meals, taverns, gambling tables, and magic shows.
In Wonderland, Johnson compellingly argues that observers of technological and social trends should be looking for clues in novel amusements. You’ll find the future wherever people are having the most fun.
In this charming study, Johnson (How We Got to Now) examines how the seemingly frivolous and unproductive aspects of society the things people do for fun, pleasure, and entertainment have influenced, defined, and created the world. "This is a history of play," he writes, "a history of the pastimes that human beings have concocted to amuse themselves as an escape from the daily grind of subsistence." According to Johnson, the development of music led to the computer age, the invention of public eating and drinking establishments progressed to cultural and ideological revolution, and games of chance inspired the creation of whole new mathematical fields. In food, fashion, athletics, and commerce, Johnson explores the surprising ways in which one discovery follows from another, often over the course of centuries. "Ignore the pleasure those institutions generated," he suggests, "and focus on the innovations or historical sea changes they helped bring about: public museums, the age of exploration, the rubber industry, stock markets, programmable computers, the industrial revolution, robots, the public sphere, global trade." In an entertaining and accessible style, he takes tangents that arrive at sometimes startling conclusions, like a magician practicing misdirection. Less focused on the why than the how, Johnson connects the dots in a way that sheds new light on everyday concepts.