The Most Powerful Idea in the World
by William Rosen
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Random House
Released: June 1, 2010
Source: Borrowed from my local library.
Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
In The Most Powerful Idea in the World, William Rosen tells the story of the men responsible for the Industrial Revolution and the machine that drove it—the steam engine. In the process he tackles the question that has obsessed historians ever since: What made eighteenth-century Britain such fertile soil for inventors? Rosen’s answer focuses on a simple notion that had become enshrined in British law the century before: that people had the right to own and profit from their ideas.
The result was a period of frantic innovation revolving particularly around the promise of steam power. Rosen traces the steam engine’s history from its early days as a clumsy but sturdy machine, to its coming-of-age driving the wheels of mills and factories, to its maturity as a transporter for people and freight by rail and by sea. Along the way we meet inventors as Thomas Newcomen and James Watt, scientists including Robert Boyle and Joseph Black, and philosophers John Locke and Adam Smith, as well as learn about the technologies and developments necessary for the creation of steam engines.
The Most Powerful Idea in the World is a "Connections"-style book about the developments in technology and ideas that were needed to create an effective steam engine. The author covered the economic, legal, and social issues that came together to foster invention. He also followed various threads of technological developments from ancient times to 1829 that were needed for the creation of steam locomotives. He talked about many inventors and inventions along the way, including developments in iron working, precision measurement, textiles, mining, and science.
If you're looking for a book that clearly explains how each invention worked and includes diagrams, this isn't it. There were only a few diagrams, and the descriptions in the text didn't give enough information for someone not already familiar with the science and engineering behind it. Since the descriptions didn't really enlighten me, they actually went on longer than I needed to understand the overall story of development. A timeline would have been useful, too. The author reset where we were in time with each new topic. Each technology or idea led to the next within each chapter, but I started to lose track of when the events of other chapters happened in relation to the one I was currently reading.
Overall, this is a fairly readable book with a lot of interesting connections about the legal protection and technology needed for the development of the first practical steam locomotive. Just keep in mind that it's a bit technical while still not fully explaining how the various technologies work.
If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.
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