How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World

Book review by Deane Barker
tags: tech-history
2014
Steven Johnson
293
10/10

I love Steven Johnson. “Where Good Ideas Come From” is one of my favorite books.

This book looked back at 5-6 “inventions” that remarkably changed the modern world. I quote “inventions” because these things are really, really basic.

So, things like “cold” (meaning, the ability to make things artificially cold), glass, recorded sound, etc. Johnson traces the invention of these things, and the remarkable effects they caused – both primary and immediate, and secondary and delayed.

For instance, Johannes Gutenberg developed the printing press. So now we had a bunch of things to read. This revealed – for the first time – that a lot of people were farsighted. This meant there was now a huge market for eyeglasses. This meant a lot more people went into the business of making lenses. This means that when the lens market was saturated, they started doing other stuff with lenses, like inventing microscopes and telescopes.

Think about that: in a weird way, we owe almost all of biology and physics to the printing press, a couple of steps removed. That may be a leap, but it demonstrates the domino effect that inventions have. One leads to another which leads to another, etc.

The book is full of these stories. It’s well worth the read.

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