The Greatest Inventions of the Past 2,000 Years

John Brockman, Author, S&s, Author, John Brockman, Editor Simon & Schuster $22 (192p) ISBN 978-0-684-85998-9
Physicist Freeman Dyson says it's hay; biologist Brian C. Goodwin nominates the printing press; and virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier suggests that it's the human ego. Whether or not readers agree with any of the more than 100 contributors to this nifty volume about the greatest invention of the past two millennia, anyone who cracks open the book's covers is in for an intellectual treat. Brockman, perhaps best known as an agent for science writers but also as the author or editor of several books (Digerati, etc.), here presents, with additions and changes, writings on that subject posted on his Web site, Edge (, by a host of inspired minds (though perhaps not, as the jacket crows, ""today's leading thinkers""; there's a paucity of artists and religious professionals represented, for example). The contributions, which run from a couple of sentences to several pages, are grouped into ""How We Live"" and ""How We Think."" Though there appears to be some chronological ordering within each section, the essays are also arranged to illuminate one another. Some are obvious--three thinkers in a row nominate calculus--while others are startling for their unexpectedness (social commentator Douglas Rushkoff suggests the eraser, which lets us ""fix"" our mistakes) or their ingenuity (theoretical psychologist Nicholas Humphrey names reading glasses, which ""have effectively doubled the working life of anyone who reads or does fine work--and have prevented the world from being ruled by people under forty."" Together, the essays challenge and delight, offering flash after flash of insight. Brockman's own suggestion is our ""Distributed Networked Intelligence""--""the collective, externalized mind,"" of which this at once amiable and arresting book is a notable manifestation. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 01/03/2000
Release date: 01/01/2000
Genre: Nonfiction
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