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How We Got to Now by Steve Johnson

Did you ever wonder how sometimes something leads to something else that appears to be totally unrelated? In this book, Steve Johnson a New York Times bestselling author and host of the PBS/BBC series How We Got to Now will explain just how that happens.

Johnson terms the book " a work of history written sometime in the future by some form of artificial intelligence, mapping out the history of the preceding millennium." Doesn't that explain it? But what the book does talk about is how 6 ideas and innovations have triggered changes that seem to have nothing to do with the original idea. Johnson's 6 ideas: glass, cold, sound, clean, time and light.

He starts by explaining that innovations usually begin with an attempt to solve a specific problem but end up triggering changes that have seemingly nothing to do with the original problem (think Velcro). A new innovation is really a network of new ideas. For example, the printing press. The printing press created a demand for eyeglasses so people could see the printed word more clearly which led to experiments with lenses which led to the microscope. Johnson calls this the hummingbird effect.

The focus is on North American and European ideas and innovations and the book doesn't deal with the relative value of the idea. His example is air conditioning which has allowed people to live in the desert and that negatively affects water supply. Johnson starts with glass, starting with an event 26 million years ago in the Libyan desert and continuing right up to today's fiber optics.

The whole book is like this and it is fascinating. Short, each innovation chapter is less than 50 pages in length and chocked full of interesting tidbits. Not only interesting, the book gives a little bit of history and science in the deal.

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