How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson

How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson. October 16, 2018. Viking Books for Young Readers, 160 p. ISBN: 9780425287781.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 7.7.

Did you drink a glass of water today? Did you turn on a light? Did you think about how miraculous either one of those things is when you did it? Of course not–but you should, and New York Times bestselling author Steven Johnson has. This adaptation of his adult book and popular PBS series explores the fascinating and interconnected stories of innovations–like clean drinking water and electricity–that changed the way people live.

Innovation starts with a problem whose solution sets in motion all kinds of unexpected discoveries. That’s why you can draw a line from pendulums to punching the clock at a factory, from ice blocks to summer movie blockbusters, from clean water to computer chips.

In the lively storytelling style that has made him a popular, bestselling author, Steven Johnson looks at how accidental genius, brilliant mistakes, and unintended consequences shape the way we live in the modern world. Johnson’s “long zoom” approach connects history, geography, politics, and scientific advances with the deep curiousity of inventors or quirky interests of tinkerers to show how innovation truly comes about.

His fascinating account is organized into six topics: glass, cold, sound, clean, time, light. Johnson’s fresh exploration of these simple, single-syllable word concepts creates an endlessly absorbing story that moves from lightning strikes in the prehistoric desert to the herculean effort to literally raise up the city of Chicago to laser labs straight out of a sci-fi movie.

In other words, it’s the story of how we got to now!

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Author Talk

Reviews

Booklist (October 15, 2018 (Online))
Grades 5-8. Adapted for young readers from an adult book and PBS series, this volume explains six innovations that have changed the world: glass, cold, sound, clean (water), time, and light. It explores how these building blocks have inspired technological breakthroughs that have transformed our lives. The discovery of glassmaking, for example, led to the creation of clear glass, eyeglasses, microscopes, telescopes, cameras, fiberglass, laser beams, and fiber optic cables. Readers may be surprised that some technologies common today were actually developed more than 100 years ago, even if they weren’t refined until more recently (electric cars were first developed in the 1890s). Although it mostly features contributions by men from North America and Europe, Ada Lovelace and Marie Curie are mentioned. Not only does this praise scientists’ successful undertakings but it also recounts their erroneous beliefs and failures. Vintage photographs, recommended resources, and further back matter are included. The intriguing information here (Louis XIII didn’t bathe at all until he was seven!) will inform and fascinate report writers and casual browsers.

Kirkus Reviews (September 15, 2018)
Beginning with ideas that emerged thousands of years ago, Johnson tracks a series of innovations that led world culture to where it is now. In an adaption for younger readers of his adult work of the same name (2014), he tracks six pathways arranged along the following themes (which also serve as chapter titles): glass, cold, sound, clean, time, and light. The chapter on glass begins with the discovery of natural glass in the Libyan desert about 10,000 years ago and tracks it through use as jewelry, the creation of windowpanes, the development of glass that was clear, the creation of eyeglasses (necessary as books became more common), the development of other types of lenses and the scientific advances they inspired, and finally to fiber-optic cables in the digital age and creation of a massive telescope in Hawaii. Each engaging chapter remains fully grounded in the fundamental concept that advances inspire further developments, serving to present history in a nutshell that is still shown as a grand sweep of progress. A single minor gripe is that in the chapter on time, a detail on early photography is off by a few years. Excellent backmatter rounds out a balanced and thoroughly engaging presentation. Altogether, a fine exploration of technologies emerging over the eons and their remarkable interconnectedness. (Nonfiction. 11-14)

About the Author

Steven Johnson is the bestselling author of ten books, including Wonderland, How We Got to Now, Where Good Ideas Come From, The Invention of Air, The Ghost Map, and Everything Bad Is Good for You.

The founder of a variety of influential websites, he is the host and co-creator of the PBS and BBC series How We Got to Now. Johnson lives in Marin County, California, and Brooklyn, New York, with his wife and three sons.

His website is www.stevenberlinjohnson.com

Teacher Resources

How We Got to Now Classroom via PBS

Around the Web

How We Got to Now on Amazon

How We Got to Now on Barnes and Noble

How We Got to Now on Goodreads

How We Got to Now Publisher Page

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.