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Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World…
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Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World (original 2016; edition 2017)

by Steven Johnson (Author)

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1667120,335 (3.68)15
"From the New York Times-bestselling author of How We Got to Now and Where Good Ideas Come From, a look at the world-changing innovations we made while keeping ourselves entertained. This lushly illustrated history of popular entertainment takes along-zoom approach, contending that the pursuit of novelty and wonder is a powerful driver of world-shaping technological change. Steven Johnson argues that, throughout history, the cutting edge of innovation lies 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 complex modern systems. He introduces us to the colorful innovators of leisure: the explorers, proprietors, showmen, and artists who changed the trajectory of history with their luxurious wares, exotic meals, taverns, gambling tables, and magic shows. Johnson compellingly argues that observers of technological and social trends should be looking for clues in novel amusements. You'll find the future wherever people are having the most fun"--… (more)
Member:KABarnes
Title:Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World
Authors:Steven Johnson (Author)
Info:Riverhead Books (2017), Edition: Reprint, 336 pages
Collections:Your library
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Tags:to-read

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Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson (2016)

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» See also 15 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Steven Johnson provides a different, intriguing perspective on the history of innovation and invention. He turns the common phrase "necessity is the mother of invention" on its head and shows how much of human progress stems from our quest for the novel and interesting....not necessarily the needed. He looks at how a computer game brought computers into households, how a bouncing ball led to the widespread use of rubber, and how the fondness for spices supported international cuisine. The writing is clear and engaging and the book broadened my perspective of history. ( )
  LynnB | Jul 7, 2019 |
Like Tom Sawyer's friends, most of us are willing to work very hard if it seems like play. How else explain the appeal of crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, cross-stitch and golf? Because of all the work invested in play, pleasure and simple amusement, civilization has made great strides. Various writers have touched on this subject. Eric Hoffer comes to mind. Steven Johnson has made it the focus of an entire book, “Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World” (2016).

"You will find the future wherever people are having the most fun," Johnson writes. As proof he looks to the past.

Computers are now vital to virtually every business, every government office, every military operation and every bank transaction. Back in 1961 computers were big and slow and seemed to have few practical uses. Then three MIT grad students invented a computer game called Spacewar! Many more computer games followed, and soon youngsters pleaded with their parents for home computers to play these games. This led to more interest in computers and multiplying uses for computers, and adults wanted home computers for themselves.

Taverns and coffeehouses have for centuries been places where people go for fun. While there they talk, communicating ideas and rallying support for causes. Johnson traces the success of the American Revolution to taverns, where Thomas Paine's Common Sense and the Declaration of Independence were often read aloud. As for coffeehouses, he says public museums, insurance corporations, formal stock exchanges and weekly magazines all had their roots in them.

Johnson does much the same kind of thing with the spice trade, tea, movies, chess, fashion and other pleasure pursuits that led to unexpected developments.

Sometimes the process works in reverse. The author says both Disney's EPCOT and shopping malls originated as ideas for modernistic residential communities. In neither case did the housing aspect of the plan ever happen. EPCOT became a theme park. Shopping malls became places where people, especially women and teenagers, go to get away from home for a few hours. ( )
  hardlyhardy | May 23, 2019 |
I've enjoyed all of Steven Johnson's quirky explorations of history and technology, and this one is no exception. I think the subtitle may actually be a little bit misleading, though, as he's using "play" in an extremely broad way. There's only one chapter devoted to what we'd normally think of as games or sports (including chess, Monopoly, gambling, early computer games, and bouncing balls). The rest of the book looks at a wide range of human activities and inventions that are pleasant and interesting, but not especially useful for survival, from music to zoos to hanging out in bars and coffeeshops.

While a few of the topics covered here seem to be included simply because they're interesting, in general they work towards an overarching thesis: that despite the common wisdom that necessity is the mother of invention, it's often completely unnecessary, even seemingly frivolous pursuits that end up driving history. For instance a fondness for soft fabric which could be dyed in pretty colors and patterns, with a little help from the rise of shopping as a recreational activity, led to the explosion of the cotton industry and thus to slavery in America and everything that came with it. And without humanity's incredible hunger for spices -- which may be tasty and interestingly exotic, but have little or no nutritional value -- the map of the modern world would look unimaginably different.

It's a thesis worth thinking about, and one that also makes for a nice excuse for an entertaining ramble through history, with lots of interesting facts, odd anecdotes, and opportunities to appreciate the vast, chaotic, interconnections that underlie so much of what we take for granted in the world. ( )
  bragan | Apr 4, 2018 |
Interesting. Tells how we move from play to inventions. ( )
  kthomp25 | Apr 22, 2017 |
Steven Johnson's Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World offers some fascinating insights and observations in support of his premise that recreation and play have been the driving forces for invention and discovery. Writing in a breezy style, Johnson is an adept storyteller, weaving together engaging and surprising threads within chapters covering fashion and shopping, music, taste, illusion, games, and public space. Johnson's colorful text and the rich illustrations combine to form a remarkably visual experience, somewhat like absorbing a fine PBS documentary. ( )
  ghr4 | Mar 2, 2017 |
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Denzer, BenCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Those mechanical wonder which in one century enriched only the conjurer who used them, contributed in another to augment the wealth of the nation; and those automatic toys, which once amused the vulgar, are now employed in extending the power and promoting the civilization of our species. In whatever way, indeed, the power of genius may invent or combine, and to whatever low or even ludicrous purposes that invention or combination may be originally applied society receives a gift that it can never lose; and though the value of of the seed may not at once be recognized; and though it may lie long unproductive in the ungenial till of human knowledge, it will some time or other evolve its germ, and yield to mankind its natural and abundant harvest. -- David Brewster, Letters on Natural Magic
Toys and games are the preludes to serious ideas. -- Charles Eames
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For Eric
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In the early years of the Islamic Golden Age, around 760 CE, the new leader of the Abbasid Dynasty, Abu Ja'far Mansur, began scouting the land on the eastern edge of Mesopotamia, looking to build a new capital city from scratch.
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"From the New York Times-bestselling author of How We Got to Now and Where Good Ideas Come From, a look at the world-changing innovations we made while keeping ourselves entertained. This lushly illustrated history of popular entertainment takes along-zoom approach, contending that the pursuit of novelty and wonder is a powerful driver of world-shaping technological change. Steven Johnson argues that, throughout history, the cutting edge of innovation lies 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 complex modern systems. He introduces us to the colorful innovators of leisure: the explorers, proprietors, showmen, and artists who changed the trajectory of history with their luxurious wares, exotic meals, taverns, gambling tables, and magic shows. Johnson compellingly argues that observers of technological and social trends should be looking for clues in novel amusements. You'll find the future wherever people are having the most fun"--

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