Wonderland Book Summary - Wonderland Book explained in key points
Listen to the Intro

Wonderland summary

Steven Johnson

How Play Made the Modern World

4.5 (29 ratings)
17 mins
Table of Contents

    Summary of 7 key ideas

    Audio & text in the Blinkist app
    Key idea 1 of 7

    Humans’ hardwired desire for play has been an underappreciated driver of progress.

    When we think of innovation and progress in human history, the easy assumption to make would be that necessity or utilitarianism played a part at some point.

    But in reality, many important inventions have been sparked in the crucible of play. A little bit of fun has gone a long way!

    Consider the Banu Musa brothers. They were Islamic scholars in ninth-century Baghdad. As two of the best engineers of their time, they published groundbreaking work on mechanics and hydraulics in The Book of Ingenious Devices.

    They described their self-built machines and introduced principles that laid the groundwork for innovations such as the steam engine or the jet engine, which would not be built until centuries later.

    Useful though their ideas became, the Banu Musa brothers began by just messing about. In fact, they spent most of their time trying to entertain others by constructing frivolous trinkets and toys.

    They built automated dolls, self-playing instruments and even a mechanical peacock that dispensed water and soap when its feathers were pulled.

    There’s a powerful conclusion in this anecdote: fun and play have shaped history far more than one might assume – and for good reason; the human brain is predisposed to engineer discovery through play.

    First of all, the brain loves surprises.

    Whenever we encounter novelty, our brains give us a shot of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which provides us with a natural high. Consequently, we're wired to want to explore our surroundings and seek out new experiences. It’s through this mechanism that we might be led to important discoveries or unique creations as a result of mere curiosity or happenstance.

    Second, our brains just work differently when we’re playing. We suspend our disbelief and our minds start to make previously unimagined associations.

    It’s in this freewheeling and playful mode that our minds are at their most creative.

    In the next blink, we’ll examine what discoveries humans have made while at play.

    Want to see all full key ideas from Wonderland?

    Key ideas in Wonderland

    More knowledge in less time
    Read or listen
    Read or listen
    Get the key ideas from nonfiction bestsellers in minutes, not hours.
    Find your next read
    Find your next read
    Get book lists curated by experts and personalized recommendations.
    Shortcasts New
    We’ve teamed up with podcast creators to bring you key insights from podcasts.

    What is Wonderland about?

    Wonderland (2016) argues that the role of play and fun in human history is undervalued. We have been told by history books that wars, revolutions and monarchs are the drivers of history, and we thus tend to overlook more mundane factors in favor of powerful figures and famous movements. However, the pleasure we derive from bone flutes, board games, the color purple or alcohol have likewise contributed greatly to invention and progress.

    Who should read Wonderland?

    • People who like having their usual perspectives challenged
    • Inventors and creatives looking for inspiration
    • Anyone who wants to know how small ideas become big innovations

    About the Author

    Steven Johnson is the best-selling author of ten nonfiction books. These include How We Got to Now, Where Good Ideas Come From and Everything Bad Is Good for You. He is also a regular contributor to the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times.

    Categories with Wonderland

    Books like Wonderland

    People ❤️ Blinkist
    Sven O.

    It's highly addictive to get core insights on personally relevant topics without repetition or triviality. Added to that the apps ability to suggest kindred interests opens up a foundation of knowledge.

    Thi Viet Quynh N.

    Great app. Good selection of book summaries you can read or listen to while commuting. Instead of scrolling through your social media news feed, this is a much better way to spend your spare time in my opinion.

    Jonathan A.

    Life changing. The concept of being able to grasp a book's main point in such a short time truly opens multiple opportunities to grow every area of your life at a faster rate.

    Renee D.

    Great app. Addicting. Perfect for wait times, morning coffee, evening before bed. Extremely well written, thorough, easy to use.

    People also liked

    Start growing with Blinkist now
    28 Million
    Downloads on all platforms
    4.7 Stars
    Average ratings on iOS and Google Play
    Of Blinkist members create a better reading habit*
    *Based on survey data from Blinkist customers
    Powerful ideas from top nonfiction

    Try Blinkist to get the key ideas from 7,000+ bestselling nonfiction titles and podcasts. Listen or read in just 15 minutes.

    Start your free trial