From the New York Times–bestselling author of Where Good Ideas Come From and Unexpected Life, a new look at the power and legacy of great ideas.
In this illustrated history, Steven Johnson explores the history of innovation over centuries, tracing facets of modern life (refrigeration, clocks, and eyeglass lenses, to name a few) from their creation by hobbyists, amateurs, and entrepreneurs to their unintended historical consequences. Filled with surprising stories of accidental genius and brilliant mistakes—from the French publisher who invented the phonograph before Edison but forgot to include playback, to the Hollywood movie star who helped invent the technology behind Wi-Fi and Bluetooth—How We Got to Now investigates the secret history behind the everyday objects of contemporary life.
In his trademark style, Johnson examines unexpected connections between seemingly unrelated fields: how the invention of air-conditioning enabled the largest migration of human beings in the history of the species—to cities such as Dubai or Phoenix, which would otherwise be virtually uninhabitable; how pendulum clocks helped trigger the industrial revolution; and how clean water made it possible to manufacture computer chips. Accompanied by a major six-part television series on PBS, How We Got to Now is the story of collaborative networks building the modern world, written in the provocative, informative, and engaging style that has earned Johnson fans around the globe.
In this fascinating book, Johnson (Where Good Ideas Come From) presents a "history of ideas and innovation," focusing on six important technical and scientific innovations that have shaped the modern world but that we often take for granted. The book reveals what Johnson calls "the hummingbird effect," when "an innovation... in one field ends up triggering changes that seem to belong to a different domain altogether." We learn how Gutenberg's press created a market for spectacles, which, in turn, led to the development of the microscope, the telescope, and the camera; how muckrakers were empowered by flash photography in the Progressive Era; and how the modern advertising business has roots in the germ theory of disease. Understanding the hummingbird effect is crucial in our world of constant technological development. Johnson debunks the genius theory of innovation the romantic idea of the lone inventor who changes history arguing instead that ideas and innovations emerge from "collaborative networks" at the intersections of different domains. He says that this understanding is crucial to "see more clearly the way new ideas come into being, and how to cultivate them as a society." 75 b&w and color photos.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Rewarding, informative, and rigorously edited.
The tone of a storyteller rather than an encyclopedia. Perfect balance of information; neither too little nor too much.
Glass, glass, glass
This was a hugely rewarding book to experience. Particularly from a connected device. In the process of reading I visited dozens of Wikipedia profiles and listened to multiple artists and inventors, from the dust, on YouTube and other relevant websites Google surfaced.
By far the most engrossing chapter was Glass, chapter 1. All the chapters have nuggets, but Glass's every word is becomes the most fascinating word you've ever read.
Highly, highly recommend.
A Great Read
What fun book. Well written. Interesting to look at the long view rather than the "lightbulb effect."