The Greatest Inventions of the Past 2000 Years

The Greatest Inventions of the Past 2000 Years

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by John Brockman, S&s
     
 

What was the greatest invention of the past 2,000 years, and why? This provocative question was posed to some of the world's foremost scientific and creative thinkers, including several Nobel laureates. Their answers may surprise you. Lively and thought-provoking, The Greatest Inventions of the Past 2,000 Years is not only an entertaining book about science

Overview

What was the greatest invention of the past 2,000 years, and why? This provocative question was posed to some of the world's foremost scientific and creative thinkers, including several Nobel laureates. Their answers may surprise you. Lively and thought-provoking, The Greatest Inventions of the Past 2,000 Years is not only an entertaining book about science and creativity but also an opportunity to peek inside the minds of some of the leading thinkers of our time.

With contributors such as Stewart Brand, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Howard Gardner, Sherry Turkle, Steven Pinker, Jared Diamond, Freeman Dyson, Murray Gell-Mann, and Leon Lederman, The Greatest Inventions of the Past 2,000 Years is an invitation to a salon of our leading thinkers. Their answers to the editor's question are as varied as the group itself. Candidates for the greatest invention include the expected, such as the computer and movable type (although even here there are intriguing insights into how these inventions have altered our civilization), and the surprising, such as the Indo-Arab counting system, the lens, classical music, and the eraser. Some contributors comment perceptively on their colleagues' nominees.

Not all of the respondents limited their answers to concrete objects. Some chose as greatest "inventions" the concepts of free will, marketing, democracy and social justice, the scientific method, and our disbelief in the supernatural, arguing persuasively that ideas are inventions as much as are mechanical objects.

The Greatest Inventions of the Past 2,000 Years is a provocative, insightful look at how science, technology, and the creative mind have altered our lives and changed the world.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal - Library Journal
Author and literary agent Brockman has edited a cutting-edge volume of the most significant inventions of the past two millennia. The book itself attests to the giant shift in the way in which research is carried out: these short essays were first written for Edge (www.edge.org), a website and information arena for intellectuals. Each entry is a response to an e-mail question sent by Brockman (e.g., "What is the Most Important Invention in the Past Two Thousand Years? and Why?"). With more than 100 thought-provoking selections, the book looks at inventions as varied as the printing press and the scientific method. This is a surprising and intriguing collection with many entries that one might not even consider an invention at first glance. Brief bona fides are given for each contributor; their credentials and diverse science backgrounds are impressive. Recommended for public libraries.--Dayne Sherman, Southeastern Louisiana Univ., Hammond Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
While no one is certain when the first lens was invented, we know that these curved pieces of glass were improving the eyesight of Europeans by the 14th century. In the 17th century, two lenses were put together to form a telescope and, soon afterward, the microscope - tools that altered our view of ourselves and the universe.

The lens is just one of dozens of objects deconstructed in The Greatest Inventions of the Past 2,000 Years. Others that make the cut include the birth-control pill, classical music, the city, the computer, hay, self-government, probability theory, the Hindu-Arabic number system and the printing press.

The 100-plus scholars, scientists and writers whose short essays fill this book are members of the invitation-only "Third Culture" e-mail list, where the book's central question was first posed and passionately debated. Hosted by literary agent and author John Brockman, this virtual geek salon includes such iconoclastic scientists and thinkers as Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Esther Dyson and Steven Johnson. The discussion spilled over into Brockman's Web site ..., from which he assembled these essays.

The book's best moments come when a contributor picks a seemingly random, everyday object and then demonstrates how its introduction to humanity changed the course of history. Without the plow, we might never have tamed the countryside, hence there would be no cities to speak of and no large-scale agriculture.

Because this is such a wired set, some contributors say the history of inventions has reached its apogee with the Internet. Universal schooling? Electricity? The printing press? These inventions are not praised for their revolutionary qualities; they simply made it possible for the Internet to exist.

Such pronouncements are short-sighted and border on being arrogant. We'll need at least another half millennium before we can accurately gauge the importance of the world's most recent inventions. Yet it's difficult to fault these thinkers' enthusiasm. As artist, composer and scientist Henry Warwick says in the book, "We are all of our time; and while we can dream of other times, we always dream in our own time."

As is to be expected from analytic minds, no small amount of ink is spilled grappling with the question itself. Does an invention have to be a physical thing, or can the word be extended to include concepts? And how does one, for that matter, measure importance?

Indeed, a playful spirit can be found in almost all the responses. Many participants fudge on the time constraints, sometimes nominating inventions older than 2000 years. The participants poke fun at each other's nominations and their self-referential musings. Reading this book, the reader senses how much more exciting the actual discussion must have been. It's as though we've been invited to a wonderful dinner party, but had to watch it through a telescope with a cloudy lens.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780684859989
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
01/12/2000
Pages:
192
Product dimensions:
5.87(w) x 8.79(h) x 0.78(d)

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The Greatest Inventions of the Past 2000 Years 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is asking for people to explain what they think is the greatest invention on the last 2,000 years. They asked many people who deal with science and the environment everyday to tell what they though was the greatest invention. A few times the invention of the contraceptive pill, the computer, the printing press and many more that were though by many to be one of the greatest inventions. The question was put out by John Brockman who edited the book he wanted to find out what other people thought of as ¿great¿ inventions. Along with inventions there were also concepts and ideas listed in this book. People came up with stuff like the probability theory and the idea of an idea. There was a wide diversity between what people thought of as great inventions, for example the atomic bomb then there was others who nominated hay. As you can see from reading this book what your idea of a ¿great¿ invention is all depends on how you live and where you live. But still the question wanted to find out what people thought most carved how we live today.