A Brief History of Motion Book Summary - A Brief History of Motion Book explained in key points
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A Brief History of Motion summary

Tom Standage

From the Wheel, to the Car, to What Comes Next

4.3 (93 ratings)
28 mins
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    A Brief History of Motion
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    The invention of the wheel led to both practical uses and luxurious status symbols for ancient kings.

    Science has given us a lot of answers over the years, but history still retains a few secrets. For instance, who invented the wheel? For a while, it was assumed that the wheel came from Mesopotamia, often referred to as the “cradle of civilization,” and emerged sometime around 3500 BC. 

    However, new carbon dating results suggest that the origins of the wheel may reside in the Carpathian mountains, in areas like western Ukraine. A clay model of a bull on four wheels, found in Ukraine, was dated to have been made between 3950 to 3650 BC. In nearby southern Poland, a drawing of a four-wheeled carrier was found etched onto a pot that dates back to 3630 - 3380 BC.

    The key message here is: The invention of the wheel led to both practical uses and luxurious status symbols for ancient kings.

    The Carpathian mountains were loaded with copper ore, which was one of the major ingredients that precipitated the Bronze Age. Mining copper ore was no easy task, of course, and it makes perfect sense that the world’s first small hand-pulled wheeled vehicles would be ones that were used to cart ore out of the copper mines. So it was from the Carpathians that the invention of the wheel spread outward, to areas such as Mesopotamia. At least that’s the theory that historian Richard Bulliet helped popularize in 2016.

    But, surprisingly enough, wheels didn’t catch on overnight. They weren’t exactly easy to make with the tools at the time. And since it would be a while before axles and other modifications would make turning possible, their use was limited. By 3000 BC, two-wheeled carts were being used, but it wasn’t until 2000 BC that chariots took wheels into new territory.

    The invention of spoked wheels was a big leap. It meant wheels could be bigger, lighter, and faster. This led to the creation of chariots, which were pioneered by the Hittites as a military tool. Not only were they used to move weapons and supplies, war chariots were also painstakingly decked out with lavish decorations and used to elevate kings and heroic warriors into faster-than-life, god-like beings. Indeed, it was common for Egyptian and Hittite rulers to be buried with their chariots upon death. Already, wheels were becoming something of a status symbol in ancient times.

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    What is A Brief History of Motion about?

    A Brief History of Motion (2021) provides a revealing overview of the history, and possible future, of the automobile. From the invention of the wheel, to early steam engine contraptions and the enticing promises of automated cars, you’ll find out how these vehicles changed the course of human history, and the unexpected problems they’ve caused along the way. 

    Who should read A Brief History of Motion?

    • Gearheads
    • Anyone concerned about climate change 
    • Investors wondering about the future of transportation

    About the Author

    Tom Standage has been a writer for the Economist since 1998 and now serves as the publication’s deputy editor. He is also a popular commentator and keynote speaker, often on the subjects of technology and social trends. He is the author of numerous best-selling books including A History of the World in Six Glasses and An Edible History of Humanity.

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