Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Wonderland: PLAY Made the Modern World

Crystal Quintero, Dhr. Seven (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly; Steven Johnson (P&P, KABC)
TALK: Steven Johnson traces the development of play and chronicles the essential evolution of popular entertainment using an appealing blend of illustrations, profiles, science, and stories. Our insatiable quest for wonder and novelty has driven technology to achieve the pyrotechnics of rock concerts, the special effects of film, and other mass consumer enchantments (

Look at this guy. He's about to meditate.
“A house of wonders itself...Wonderland inspires grins and well-what-d’ya-knows.” —The New York Times Book Review

This lushly illustrated history of popular entertainment takes a long-zoom approach, contending that the pursuit of wonder and novelty is a powerful driver of world-shaping technological change.

I'd rather be meditating right now.
Author Steven Johnson argues that, throughout history, the cutting edge of innovation comes wherever people are working the hardest to keep themselves and others amused.

Johnson’s storytelling is just as delightful as the inventions he describes, full of surprising stops along the journey from simple concepts to elaborate modern systems.

He introduces us to the colorful innovators of leisure: the explorers, proprietors, showpersons, and artists who changed the trajectory of history with their luxurious wares, exotic meals, public taverns, gambling tables, and illusory magic shows.

Johnson compellingly argues that observers of technological and social trends should be looking for clues in novel amusements. In the future it’ll be found wherever people are having the most fun.

Praise for How We Got to Now:
That Roadrunner loves it when I give chase.
“Johnson’s writing derives its appeal from his ability to illuminate complex ideas in unpretentious language...Johnson’s prose is nimble, his knowledge impressive...Wonderland is original and fun, as well it should be, given the subject.” —The San Francisco Chronicle

Wonderland brims with...tidbits, memorable moments, and bits of information that light up the mind.... [Johnson] surprises and delights as he traces the path of how various objects of fun and fancy -- mechanized dolls, follies, and music boxes -- drove advances.” —The Boston Globe

“Mr. Johnson’s narrative is crammed with elegantly told vignettes from the history of ideas.... The book is full of excellent facts.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Johnson...provides a compelling counter-intuitive argument that the Industrial Revolution, democracy, and the computer age were all driven by diversions and appetites that historians too often ignore.” —Kirkus (starred review)

“In an entertaining and accessible style, he takes tangents that arrive at sometimes startling conclusions, like a magician practicing misdirection…Johnson connects the dots in a way that sheds new light on everyday concepts.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Johnson is a master storyteller, weaving disparate elements together into a rich and seamless tapestry of technology and human history.” —Booklist (starred review)

“An engaging survey full of unexpected connections that readers of a historical or sociological bent will find particularly riveting.” —Library Journal 

More praise
“[Johnson’s] point is simple, important, and well-timed: During periods of rapid innovation, there is always tumult as citizens try to make sense of it.... Johnson...makes their evolution understandable.” —The Washington Post

“An unbelievable’s an innovative way to talk about history.” —Jon Stewart

“What makes this book such a mind-expanding read is Johnson’s ability to appreciate human advancement as a vast network of influence, rather than a simple chain of one invention leading to another, and the result is nothing less than a celebration of the human mind.” —The Daily Beast

“The reader of How We Got to Now cannot fail to be impressed by human ingenuity, including Johnson’s, in determining these often labyrinthine but staggeringly powerful developments of one thing to the next.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Brilliant.... Johnson is an exemplar of the post-categorical age.... The ‘long zoom’ approach gives Johnson’s book power, makes it a tool for understanding where we stand today, and makes it satisfying.” —New York Times Book Review
“A vision of innovation and ideas that is resolutely social, dynamic, and material...Fluidly written, entertaining, and smart without being arcane.” —Los Angeles Times More (Amazon)

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