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Publisher's Summary

From the New York Times best-selling author of Where Good Ideas Come From and Everything Bad Is Good for You, a new look at the power and legacy of great ideas.

In this volume, Steven Johnson explores the history of innovation over centuries, tracing facets of modern life (refrigeration, clocks, and eyeglass lenses, to name a few) from their creation by hobbyists, amateurs, and entrepreneurs to their unintended historical consequences. Filled with surprising stories of accidental genius and brilliant mistakes - from the French publisher who invented the phonograph before Edison but forgot to include playback, to the Hollywood movie star who helped invent the technology behind Wi-Fi and Bluetooth - How We Got to Now investigates the secret history behind the everyday objects of contemporary life.

In his trademark style, Johnson examines unexpected connections between seemingly unrelated fields: how the invention of air-conditioning enabled the largest migration of human beings in the history of the species - to cities such as Dubai or Phoenix, which would otherwise be virtually uninhabitable; how pendulum clocks helped trigger the industrial revolution; and how clean water made it possible to manufacture computer chips. Accompanied by a major six-part television series on PBS, How We Got to Now is the story of collaborative networks building the modern world, written in the provocative, informative, and engaging style that has earned Johnson fans around the globe.

©2014 Steven Johnson (P)2014 Penguin Audio

What members say

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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Really good and interesting book

Where does How We Got to Now rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

This is really a very interesting book about the development of everyday life tools we take for granted (light, clean water, sound recordings, etc). The stories for each major area are extremely interesting and the narrator does an excellent job of getting the message across. If there is ever a volume two to this series I will definitely get it!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Raleigh
  • greensboro, NC, United States
  • 03-08-17

connect the dots


? are you fascinated by the history of science and ideas
? do you ever question the origins of the underpinnings of modern life
? do you enjoy learning about seemingly unrelated innovations

well, steven johnson has put his considerable intellect to work for you
he teases out the history of the foundations of our 21st century lives
his 6 explanations are brilliantly entertaining and incredibly insightful

glass > lenses > telescopes > printing presses > lasers
ice > refrigeration > air conditioning > living nearer the equator
cave echoes > phonograph > music (jazz) > telegraph & telephone > ultrasound

germ theory > sewers > dense urban living > clean water > swimming pools & suits
sun dial > pendulum > clock > tightly time regulated modern lives
candle > oil lamps > light bulbs > photographs > cinema

knowing the historic source of the implements of our current lives is fascinating
it's helpful to remember how most inventions are collaborative joint efforts
the diversity and interactions of cultures so often leads to the best outcome



2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Excellent Book

What made the experience of listening to How We Got to Now the most enjoyable?

The content of this book is fascinating! If it had been a physical book, I wouldn't have been able to put it down.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Being a non-fiction book, this question doesn't apply. I think the chapter on "Glass" was perhaps my favorite.

Which character – as performed by George Newbern – was your favorite?

n/a

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

A man spent his fortune transporting ice to the Caribbean, only to learn the people there had no idea what it was or what it could be used for. We take ice for granted, but if you've never seen it, never had a cold drink, or never eaten ice cream, then why would you buy it?

Any additional comments?

Great book! "Out of the box" subject matter!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Mark
  • Incline Village, NV 89451
  • 04-04-15

The Adjacent Possible, Network System Innovation

If you could sum up How We Got to Now in three words, what would they be?

Network System Innovation

What other book might you compare How We Got to Now to and why?

Day the Universe Changed, James Burke -Innovation and invention in the context of the Adjacent Possible.

Have you listened to any of George Newbern’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No. I don't believe so. Excellent reading of the materiel.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Each chapter, of the 6 innovations, revealed profound insight into our human condition and frame of reference before the event of a given invention that has now become a given.

Any additional comments?

An unusually even handed take on the both the enlightened achievements of our modern era, with the modest realities of many of their unintended & subsequent unfortunate collateral effects.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Andy
  • Westport, CT, United States
  • 10-10-14

cool title, unexceptional content

Good effort at tying a few conceptual frameworks together. In the end, not much there.

10 of 14 people found this review helpful

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All around great audiobook

I really enjoyed everything about this book. The history of these everyday technologies that we take for granted are fascinating. I love gaining new perspectives on things that are commonplace. The narrator gave a great read as well. I blew through this book in two sittings. I'll be going back for another listen very soon.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Great stories

Mentions YESCO in the last chapter. I was the CFO there for some time. Wonderful insights into their story and other stories behind inventions. We all stand on the shoulders of previous Giants.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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some interesing history

This is another of many recent books that chronicle how inventions changed our lives... I don't really feel this one justifies the title of "how we got to now" ... maybe "a few of the things that got us to now" would be more like it. It has some history that I hadn't heard before, but a little more of stuff I had heard before. It's an interesting listen, I don't regret it, but it didn't blow me away.

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Interesting but superficial

Any additional comments?

Steven Johnson has a knack for clearly explaining scientific leaps. Though not as good as The Ghost Map, this book takes an interesting approach to progress, examining six general areas of innovation (glass, cold, time, sound, clean, and light) and investigating their history and the confluences of time and place that propelled advancements in each area. It is a neat perspective, and Johnson often stresses that our cultural imaginings of a lone genius inventor and his eureka moment is the exception that proves the rule. In each of these innovative areas, he notes that the inventions made likely could not have been made earlier in time and that had they not been invented by one person, some other contemporary very likely would have come to the same conclusion. In all cases, he stresses that some leaps cannot be made before other leaps precede them, and that the earlier developments move the chains and change was is "adjacent possible." At times he is a bit glib and glosses over specific rationale and skips to his conclusions. But the book is nonetheless interesting a good, swift tour through the fast-changing technologies that made the (western) modern world possible.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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New insight into famous innovations

Great stories of innovation, while drawing a few general principles from the commonalities of the anecdotes.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful