Sometimes good books sneak up on you – you enjoy reading them, but their full value doesn’t surface until afterwards, when in the days and weeks that follow you find yourself thinking back on how the book changed your mind. Engines of ingenuity by Historian and NPR host John Lienhard, fits this profile.
The book is comprised of short essays on the history of technology and invention, largely from his NPR show by the same title (transcripts onlne). These essays read well, cover many famous bits of technology history and offer insights and fresh perspectives on some stories I thought I knew well. Highly recommended.
Lienhard’s new book, How invention begins picks up where EOI leaves off. This time he looks deeper into how inventions develop, exploring how often desire, and not true necessity, led to many of the major technoligical innovations of our past.
It’s written in a more challenging style than EOI: longer pieces, more rigorous history, and covers less well known territory. For that reason I recommend EOI or Leinhard’s short NPR pieces first, and if you enjoy those, they’re excellent introductions for How invention begins.