How We Got To Now (Review)

Now-bookjacketI may need to update my antenna and start to watch teevee again.  Well, only so I can begin to view “How We Got To Now” on PBS. Steven Johnson is the latest writer I’ve encountered who is connected to science oriented television broadcasting.  Judging him by his latest book, Johnson is a curious person, interested in many different fields of study.  In other words, he’s someone I’d like to personally meet.

The book, How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World is sort of a capsulized, popular history of civilization’s technology.  Reading the book, I recognized many of the topics I’ve written about on this blog.  Of course, Johnson goes into greater detail and connects more dots.

By connecting the dots, Johnson argues that the “genius theory” of invention and innovation is largely a myth. In large part, new ideas and innovations arise from conscious and unconscious interactions of different experiences and domains.

In his fluid, easy style, Johnson reveals the major breakthroughs that form the basis of our modern civilization.  This reader was often surprised by what and how these innovations may have developed.  The major topics he traces are, the development of glass, cold, sound, cleanliness, time, and light.Now-glass

In reading these stories, I realized, again, that emerging technologies are first enjoyed as luxuries for well-to-do people, then are propagated and popularized.  Just as glass used to be an elite item for the Egyptian and Roman upper class, now glass, in most of its forms, is ubiquitous to all of us.

I was impressed by Johnson’s tracing of human ingenuity through the ages. The deceptively simple aspects we take for granted, like hygiene or glass, have had staggeringly powerful influences on the development of our world. Each chapter outlines the evolution and expansion of each innovation, that the writer mistakenly labels “the hummingbird effect” and coevolution.

I reminded myself that How We Got to Now is a companion publication to a television documentary, so it is not an exhaustive study nor is it without some faults. However, if Now-Johnsona person wants to read a general overview about the development of our technologies, this book presents a reasonable starting point.

Critical readers will notice Johnson uses the writing formula of logical and inevitable progressions. The string of epiphanies makes for good popular non-fiction. This style is quite tedious in longer, more serious books.  The “gee whiz” factor, aside, I did enjoy reading the book and I may actually watch some episodes of his television documentary series.

Johnson has written other bestsellers, they include Where Good Ideas Come From, The Invention of Air, The Ghost Map, and Everything Bad is Good for You. He has written articles for leading newspapers and periodicals.

{ How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson; 293 pages; published by Riverhead-Penguin; ISBN: 978-1-59463-296-9 }

1984aThe Blue Jay of Happiness quotes James Bertrand. “Once we rid ourselves of traditional thinking, we can get on with creating the future.”

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in Books, cultural highlights, Entertainment, History, Science and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to How We Got To Now (Review)

  1. This sounds great! Thanks for sharing. If you’re ever interested in some other awesome book reviews and musings, be sure to follow! Thanks!!!

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