Sunday, October 4, 2015

Book Review – How We Got to Now

How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern WorldHow We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Based on several online recommendations I picked up this book for pretty cheap off of Amazon.. it was worth every penny. It's a very easy read - especially considering it's a historical book of some sorts. How We Got To Now essentially provides context into some of the most common things we have today, how they arrived, and how we take them for granted. The 6 chapters (each readable in under an hour... and I'm a slow reader) cover items like Glass, Cold, Sound, Cleanliness, Time and Light.

Each chapter dedicates a good mix of information on what life was like when the subject matter was being investigated, and what problem it was immediately solving - for example, did you know that one upon a time, turning on your faucet in a bathroom would result in wastewater and dead fish emptying into your tub? - neither did I.

Each chapter is also dedicated to the idea of the "hummingbird effect" - much like a hummingbirds actions have unintended positive\negative consequences - so do the invention of these items. For example, the radio opened up pockets of new music that were previously only known in their own respective sub-cultures. Country music was only heard in a honky-tonk bar, overnight this music was available "nationwide" (assuming you were an adopter of a radio.

I would imagine Steven Johnson could write a follow up with a number of other items - I'm hopeful he will anyway - the work was very enlightening and encouraging of our human ingenuity. The book closes with an excellent chapter on the forward thinking of other individuals, namely Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, and how they were designing programmable computers before ANYONE knew what the terms "programmable" or "computers" even meant. As Johnson put it, most were confused by what Charles Babbage's machine was meant for, Lovelace was thinking about potential applications after it was built. For those who care - I think this chapter is an excellent jump off point to read The Innovators by Walter Isaacson, who begins his book with a more thorough investigation into Babbage\Lovelace.

This was a very well done, easy to read book that certainly makes you appreciate where we are now, and leaves you hopeful for where we'll be in 100 years.

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