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Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson at Abbey's Bookshop,

Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World

Steven Johnson



General & world history;
Popular science;
History of engineering & technology;
Inventions & inventors


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Everyone knows the old saying "necessity is the mother of invention," but if you do a paternity test on many of the modern world's most important ideas or institutions, you will find, invariably, that leisure and play were involved in the conception as well.

Most history books don't concern themselves with delight. History is the serious business of war, treaties, governments and monarchs. This is a different kind of history book. Steven Johnson argues that if you want to understand how we got to now, you have to understand pleasure and play. A staggering amount of the landscape of modern life is populated by environments and technology designed to entertain and delight us. Here history of popular entertainment, arguing that the pursuit of novelty and wonder is a powerful driver of world-shaping technological change. Throughout history, he locates the cutting edge of innovation wherever people are working the hardest to keep themselves and others amused.

He introduces us to the colorful innovators of leisure: the explorers, proprietors, showmen, and artists who changed the trajectory of history with their luxurious wares, exotic meals, taverns, gambling tables, and magic shows.

By:   Steven Johnson
Imprint:   Macmillan
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Dimensions:   Height: 234mm,  Width: 153mm,  Spine: 24mm
Weight:   475g
ISBN:   9781509837298
ISBN 10:   1509837299
Publication Date:   November 2016
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Author Website:

Wondrous...he has that knack of making the familiar seem gloriously fresh and his ideas squirm into your brain...the writing sings's a joy and every twist is worth fully digesting -- Hugo Rifkind * The Times * Seductively erudite...a speed-read history of the serendipitous and the entertaining * The Observer * There is a fabulous amount here to be surprised by and interested in. It's a book about delight that is itself delightful * The Spectator * It's vintage Johnson, a fascinating and surprising guide to the history of innovation * Tim Harford * Johnson is an engaging writer, unable to bore the reader * The Guardian * Steven Johnson has an eye for the most interesting new ideas * Steven Pinker * The book is a house of wonders...the flutes made of bone, the zoos, the purple dye made from snails, the roulette, the automatons of digesting and defecating ducks, and Minecraft. These novelties, in turn, are connected backward in time often to ancient forces - and then forward to their cultural derivations, including synthesizers, computers and the internet. * The New York Times Book Review * Mr. Johnson's narrative is crammed with elegantly told vignettes from the history of ideas...The book is full of excellent facts * The Wall Street Journal * A rare gem. . . . Our illogical, enduring fascination with play remains one of life's great mysteries. That is precisely what makes the subject so fascinating, and Wonderland such a compelling read * The Washington Post * Johnson clearly delights in eccentric facts, and the book is fun to look at * Financial Times * Johnson's writing derives its appeal from his ability to illuminate complex ideas in unpretentious language...Johnson's prose is nimble, his knowledge impressive...Wonderland is original and fun * The San Francisco Chronicle * Wonderland brims with these sorts of tidbits, memorable moments, and bits of information that light up the mind * The Boston Globe * Johnson entertainingly shows how appetites for spices led to international exploration and colonial empires and how the ornamentation of fashion and jewelry spurred technological innovation and industry. He tells of the social revolutions that were hatched in taverns and coffeehouses, public spaces distinctly different from those where one worked, lived, or worshipped, and he suggests that commerce and consumption were not byproducts of the Industrial Revolution but driving forces. Johnson also shows the darker sides of colonial empires built on spices and of the shopping mall, which catered to consumption while threatening the inner city. There's an infectious spirit of delight in the prose, which matches the themes in a book that will engage even those not entirely convinced by its thesis to take a look from a different perspective. * Kirkus Review * In this charming study, Johnson (How We Got to Now) examines how the seemingly frivolous and unproductive aspects of society - the things people do for fun, pleasure, and entertainment - have influenced, defined, and created the world... In an entertaining and accessible style, he takes tangents that arrive at sometimes startling conclusions, like a magician practicing misdirection * Publishers Weekly * Johnson is a master storyteller, weaving disparate elements together into a rich and seamless tapestry of technology and human history * Booklist (starred review) *

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