Book Review: How We Got to Now

Source: How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World: Steven Johnson, George Newbern: 9781611763386: Books

With all the positive reviews on this book I was prepared for something extraordinary. I was disappointed. It had things that I hadn’t considered before, but like another review said very light and short on history. This was almost like a primer to understand the work for the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation and the Bill Clinton foundations. Certainly important, but I’m not sure these were the pivot points of history.

He does have a nice writing style that is easy to read, but too often he interjects his opinion. It seems that most authors are unable to hold back their biases, and even when they say they try to be impartial it is clear they are not. It makes the book more of a speculation than fact, and footnotes or other evidence would be greatly welcomed.

What makes an author easy to read however, often makes their ideas less useful. For example, one of the things he said changed the world was glass. Yes he does make a case for its importance, but looking back I think we are seeing connections that are not there. I think the mistake he makes is that what seems logical now, was not the case then, so we have a backward looking view of history instead of the forward-looking view they had at the time. I think historians can’t help but see backward looking, but they really need to find a way to forget what they know and only limit themselves to what they know. Einstein was amazing at taking what little facts he had and creating amazing and factual theories that have been proven out a century later. Historians suffer from the problem that we can’t test their theories because we have too much information to see the problem clearly.

Maybe this doesn’t make sense to others, but we see the future as a dream, not as a logical next step. Should you get this? Sure, but don’t expect it to change your world.