If all measures of human advancement in the last hundred centuries were plotted on a graph, they would show an almost perfectly flat line - until the eighteenth century, when the Industrial Revolution would cause the line to shoot straight up, beginning an almost uninterrupted march of progress.
In The Most Powerful Idea in the World, William Rosen tells the story of the men responsible for the Industrial Revolution and the machine that drove it - the steam engine. In the process, he tackles the question that has obsessed historians ever since: What made 18th-century Britain such fertile soil for inventors? Rosen's answer focuses on a simple notion that had become enshrined in British law the century before: that people had the right to own and profit from their ideas.
The result was a period of frantic innovation revolving particularly around the promise of steam power. Rosen traces the steam engine's history from its early days as a clumsy but sturdy machine, to its coming-of-age driving the wheels of mills and factories, to its maturity as a transporter for people and freight by rail and by sea. Along the way, we enter the minds of such inventors as Thomas Newcomen and James Watt; scientists, including Robert Boyle and Joseph Black; and philosophers John Locke and Adam Smith - all of whose insights, tenacity, and ideas transformed first a nation and then the world.
Rosen is a masterly storyteller with a keen eye for the "aha!" moments of invention and a gift for clear and entertaining explanations of science. The Most Powerful Idea in the World will appeal to anyone who is fascinated with history, science, and the hows and whys of innovation itself.
The story of Rocket an iconic steam locomotive designed by Robert Stevenson and now on display in London’s British Science Museum serves as the introduction and thrilling ending to The Most Powerful Idea in the World, William Rosen’s fascinating book about the Industrial Revolution.
Listening to Michael Prichard read Rosen’s thoroughly researched book feels like sitting in on a phenomenal college lecture. Prichard’s matter-of-fact intonation perfectly suits Rosen’s material and is reminiscent of a narrator you might hear on a History Channel documentary.
The book essentially explains how the Industrial Revolution evolved and explores the innovations that led to the creation of Rocket. Rosen examines steam power, pistons, heat, privacy laws, and some of the other famous early mechanized inventions, and reveals why many of these innovations occurred in England and Scotland and not elsewhere in Europe or the rest of the world. By themselves, the various topics can at first seem completely unrelated. But Rosen makes a persuasive argument and clearly illustrates how one small innovation after another led to the creation of the modern steam engine, which literally served as the driving force of the 19th-century Industrial Revolution.
Many historical books can be very dry and hard to comprehend, but Rosen delivers his descriptions about many of the world’s first modern machines in a way that’s engaging and easy to understand. The Most Powerful Idea in the World will make you look at the world in a completely different way and give you a greater appreciation for the machines we so often take for granted in our modern society. Ken Ross
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