The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America

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Product Details

Riverhead Books
Publish Date
5.46 X 0.65 X 8.22 inches | 0.59 pounds
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About the Author

Steven Johnson is the author of seven bestsellers, including Future Perfect, Where Good Ideas Come From, The Invention of Air, The Ghost Map, and Everything Bad Is Good for You, and is the editor of the anthology The Innovator's Cookbook. He is the founder of a variety of influential websites--most recently, writes for Time, Wired, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. He lives in Marin County, California, with his wife and three sons.


a[Johnson is] an infectiously exciting writer [and] "The Invention of Air" is delightful to read. But it aims high. It isn't a work of conventional history or biography, though it contains snippets of both, but more like a case study in the history of ideas that hints at a grander analytical theory. Johnson is a wide-ranging enthusiast with a catholic appetite for intriguing facts and a Marxian appetite for searching for structures that underlie social phenomena.a
aLike Priestley, Johnsonawho wrote the bestselling "Everything Bad Is Good For You"ais a polymath, and a] [itas] exhilarating to follow his unpredictable trains of thought. To explain why some ideas upend the world, he draws upon many disciplines: chemistry, social history, geography, even ecosystem science.a
a"Los Angeles Times"
aSteven Johnsonas mind works in wondrous ways and readers have been the beneficiaries of his eclectic interests. Johnsonas new book, "The Invention of Air," marks a return to cultural history a]His free-ranging mind and irreverent wit entertain and prompt thought.a
a"Seattle Post-Intelligencer"
aSteven Johnson argues that [this] key player has been all but forgotten a] An expat, a champion of reason, an original progressiveaPriestleyas ideals were central to the American experiment. He rarely gets the credit, but he was arguably the United Statesa original advocate for hope and change.a
a "Newsweek"
aThis is not a book about the discovery of oxygen but about the invention of air: how groups of scientists, natural philosophers, religious leaders and politicians served as cultural petri dishes in which ideas were discussed, experimented with, discarded oraccepted a][Johnson] gives long-overdue time and space to some of the more controversial aspects of [Priestleyas] work a]Priestley may not have gotten full credit for his work on oxygen, but this new book gives plenty to the life of the man himself.a
a"Dallas Morning News"
aSteven Johnson's latest book, "The Invention of Air," is a wide-ranging, learned, engrossing biography of the polymath pioneering scientist, Joseph Priestley a] Johnson uses the life of Priestley to illuminate a theory of history that holds that great people are neither an inevitable product of their times, nor luminous, supernatural geniuses -- rather, they are the product of an "ecosystem" of influences, technologies, climate, and energy (literally -- the story of stored energy in coal, saltpetre, and plant-bound carbon are vital to the story). He pulls this off deftly, with a series of insightful, beautifully realized anaecdotes from the life of Priestley and his contemporaries -- his allies and his many enemies -- that make the idea of history being shaped by webs and networks seem absolutely true.a
a Boingboing
a[Johnson] refracts just about every beam of Enlightenment thought through the prism of Priestley.a
a"Seattle Weekly"
aWe rarely hear of [Joseph Priestley] today, but it wasn't always thus: the correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams includes 52 mentions of Priestley, versus just three of George Washington. With "The Invention of Air," Steven Johnson brilliantly explains why a] For all of Priestleyas many achievements, laid out so delightfully in Johnsonas account, itas his work with plants and the oxygen cycle that rightfully gained him immortality a]Engrossing.a
aIn "The Invention of Air" Steven Johnson gives a biography not just of a man, but a time in which the spigot of ideas was gradually being cranked wide open. It's a fun (and quite short) read for anyone interested in the intersection of science, politics, and religion. It's also an interesting look at how societies react -- for good and ill -- to periods of rapid change.a
aDaily Kos
aA breath of fresh air a] Johnson paints Priestley not as a man of the past but precisely the sort of figure the world needs more than ever: A searcher who shared his discoveries openly and willingly, crossed disciplinary boundaries with impunity and insight, who conceived of the world as a large laboratory a] We live in troubling times, filled with signs of a great economic apocalypse, politicized science on topics from birth control to climate change and religious zealots who kill innocents rather than live peacefully with them. This is exactly the moment to learn from Priestley, who survived riots, threats of prosecution and other hardships and yet never doubted that athe world was headed naturally toward and increase in liberty and understanding.aa
a"New York Post"
aIntelligent a] Steven Johnson, who has a fine reputation for discerning trends and for his iconoclastic appreciation of popular culture, chooses his topics well. As a reminder of the underlying sanity and common sense of this countryaa reminder perhaps much needed after the excesses of a displeasing presidential election campaign
a"The Invention of Air" succeeds like a shot of the purest oxygen.a
a "Publishers Weekly "(Signature Review)
aArresting account of the career of JosephPriestley a] Johnson employs his customary digressiveness to great effect a] Another rich, readable examination of the intersections where culture and science meet from a scrupulous historian who never offers easy answer to troubling, perhaps intractable questions.a
aJoseph Priestley (1733-1804) was a veritable Renaissance man, whose interests and skills ranged from science to religion to politics. Science writer Johnson ("The Ghost Map") weaves together all of these themes and how they played out in his life, in early America, and among the Founding Fathers. He tells the story [of Priestley] in a reader-friendly manner that also encourages readers to think about how these themes apply in todayas world.a
a"Library Journal"