How We Got to Now Book Summary - How We Got to Now Book explained in key points
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How We Got to Now summary

Steven Johnson

Six Innovations that Made the Modern World

3.8 (23 ratings)
17 mins

Brief summary

How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson explores the fascinating history of innovation in six key areas: light, sound, hygiene, time, glass, and cold. It shows how these breakthroughs have shaped our world and continue to impact society today.

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    How We Got to Now
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    From aromatic flower to hovering hummingbird: Our world is more connected than you might think.

    Evolution offers a clear example of how, as living organisms, we are all interconnected. A change in one sort of plant may lead to a change in another kind of plant, through a process called coevolution.

    Usually evolution is seen as a competitive process, where one organism survives at the expense of another, less “fit” organism. Yet organisms that coevolve have instead a symbiotic relationship, in which the changes in one organism benefit the other, and vice versa.

    During the Cretaceous Age, some 145 million years ago, flowers evolved scents and colors to signal the presence of pollen to insects. Over time, insects’ bodies changed to better extract the pollen from the flowers. In doing so, the insects pollinated the flowers, after which the flowers were able to produce energy-rich nectar, attracting the attention of ever larger organisms.

    This symbiotic relationship between flowers and insects led to another remarkable evolutionary innovation: the hummingbird’s wing.

    Hummingbirds were attracted to the flowers’ nectar, but to drink the nectar, they essentially would have to learn to hover, like a bee does. Early hummingbirds could not do this; yet gradually, the birds’ wings evolved to a shape where lift was created with each downward and upward stroke. With this development, the hummingbird could then hover in mid-air, and drink nectar from a flower.

    Thus the coevolution chain proceeded as such: from colorful flowers to well-equipped insects, to pollinated flowers to hungry, hovering hummingbirds!

    In the past, no naturalist could have predicted such a path. Today we have a much better understanding of how evolution and coevolution connect all the world’s life.

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    What is How We Got to Now about?

    How We Got to Now reveals many of the hidden connections between innovations we take for granted in our modern world. It shows how innovations can have unexpected applications, and that the consequences of an innovation are almost impossible to predict. Ultimately, it illustrates how interconnected we are, as a single invention can have enormous repercussions worldwide.

    How We Got to Now Review

    How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson (2014) is a captivating exploration of the unexpected connections between various innovations and their impacts on society. Here's why this book is definitely worth reading:

    • Offers a refreshing perspective on history by uncovering the lesser-known stories of how ideas and inventions shaped the modern world.
    • Explores the six key innovations—light, sound, glass, cold, clean, and time—that have fundamentally changed our lives, unveiling their profound societal and cultural implications.
    • With his compelling storytelling and thought-provoking insights, Johnson makes complex scientific concepts understandable and engaging, ensuring that the book is far from boring.

    Who should read How We Got to Now?

    • Anyone curious about how technological innovation inspires social change
    • Anyone interested in the history of invention
    • Anyone wondering how one idea is transformed into many applications

    About the Author

    Educated at Columbia University, Steven Johnson is an author as well as host and co-creator of the BBC One series, How We Got to Now, which is based on this book.

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    How We Got to Now FAQs 

    What is the main message of How We Got to Now?

    Discover the surprising connections that have shaped our world.

    How long does it take to read How We Got to Now?

    The reading time of How We Got to Now varies. But with Blinkist, you can read the summary in just 15 minutes.

    Is How We Got to Now a good book? Is it worth reading?

    How We Got to Now is worth reading for its intriguing exploration of the unexpected advancements that have transformed our lives.

    Who is the author of How We Got to Now?

    How We Got to Now is authored by Steven Johnson.

    What to read after How We Got to Now?

    If you're wondering what to read next after How We Got to Now, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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