The Invention of Air

The Invention of Air
author: Steven Johnson
name: Elaine
average rating: 3.75
book published: 2008
rating: 5
read at: 2009/04/07
date added: 2013/01/29
shelves: biography, history, environmentalism, science, politics, favorites
A lovely review of the life of a (relatively) obscure scientist/philosopher, and the times when science, politics, and religion were much more intercommunicative spheres than they are now. IOW, this guy invented soda water, founded Unitarianism, and corresponded with Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson. Plus interesting digressions into the geohistory of coal!

Johnson makes a fascinating argument for an ecosystem metaphor of human history & civilization throughout, as well, and I think it serves in moving through the different scales of change addressed in the book. At what point is history influenced by individual quirks, broad social movements, accidents of geology, etc., etc., and this allows for all those levels to be in operation at once.

Plus the thing that I find I like about all of Johnson’s work is his (innate?) sense of optimism. Something of the Enlightenment spirit seems to motivate him, and perhaps a belief in the better angels of our nature. (I saw him at SXSWi ’09 and was struck by his optimism in an area where most others are pretty damn gloomy.) In any case, for me it makes his writing a genuine pleasure to read. This book was no exception.