How We Got to Now

  • by Steven Johnson
  • Narrated by George Newbern
  • 6 hrs and 11 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

From the New York Times best-selling author of Where Good Ideas Come From and Everything Bad Is Good for You, a new look at the power and legacy of great ideas.
In this volume, Steven Johnson explores the history of innovation over centuries, tracing facets of modern life (refrigeration, clocks, and eyeglass lenses, to name a few) from their creation by hobbyists, amateurs, and entrepreneurs to their unintended historical consequences. Filled with surprising stories of accidental genius and brilliant mistakes - from the French publisher who invented the phonograph before Edison but forgot to include playback, to the Hollywood movie star who helped invent the technology behind Wi-Fi and Bluetooth - How We Got to Now investigates the secret history behind the everyday objects of contemporary life.
In his trademark style, Johnson examines unexpected connections between seemingly unrelated fields: how the invention of air-conditioning enabled the largest migration of human beings in the history of the species - to cities such as Dubai or Phoenix, which would otherwise be virtually uninhabitable; how pendulum clocks helped trigger the industrial revolution; and how clean water made it possible to manufacture computer chips. Accompanied by a major six-part television series on PBS, How We Got to Now is the story of collaborative networks building the modern world, written in the provocative, informative, and engaging style that has earned Johnson fans around the globe.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Really good and interesting book

Where does How We Got to Now rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

This is really a very interesting book about the development of everyday life tools we take for granted (light, clean water, sound recordings, etc). The stories for each major area are extremely interesting and the narrator does an excellent job of getting the message across. If there is ever a volume two to this series I will definitely get it!


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- CJFLA

Interesting but superficial

Any additional comments?

Steven Johnson has a knack for clearly explaining scientific leaps. Though not as good as The Ghost Map, this book takes an interesting approach to progress, examining six general areas of innovation (glass, cold, time, sound, clean, and light) and investigating their history and the confluences of time and place that propelled advancements in each area. It is a neat perspective, and Johnson often stresses that our cultural imaginings of a lone genius inventor and his eureka moment is the exception that proves the rule. In each of these innovative areas, he notes that the inventions made likely could not have been made earlier in time and that had they not been invented by one person, some other contemporary very likely would have come to the same conclusion. In all cases, he stresses that some leaps cannot be made before other leaps precede them, and that the earlier developments move the chains and change was is "adjacent possible." At times he is a bit glib and glosses over specific rationale and skips to his conclusions. But the book is nonetheless interesting a good, swift tour through the fast-changing technologies that made the (western) modern world possible.

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- S. Yates

Book Details

  • Release Date: 09-30-2014
  • Publisher: Penguin Audio