A layman’s look at the eureka moments behind inventions that have become an integral part of modern life.
According to veteran science and technology historian Weightman (Secrets of a Titanic Victim: The Story of the Real My Fair Lady, 2012, etc.), in his attempt to refute the myth of the lone-genius inventor, he was surprised to find himself confirming that it is the talented amateur, outside of industry, that takes the risks necessary for true innovation. The unlikely heart of this book is the story of the development of the bar code, which started life as lines drawn in the sand on Miami Beach. Developed by inventor Joe Woodland in the late 1940s, it is the only invention here that conforms to the “necessity is the mother of invention” adage, and its tale is markedly shorter than those of the airplane or TV—but just as strange and full of fascinating detail. The other inventions mentioned in this book are all fundamental to our world now, and many of them are taken for granted as absolutely impossible to function without in general: who could imagine a world without airplanes, TV, or home computers, or mobile phones? But it’s the story of the bar code that seems to encapsulate the vast developments in technology and business in the 20th century and to combine everything from supermarket economics to the development of a “death ray.” Weightman is known for his popular takes on history, and with his background in TV, he clearly knows how to spin a yarn and make it universal. He makes unraveling these lengthy and complex sagas seem like a routine undertaking, and he gives them the accessibility and widespread appeal they deserve.
Smart technology history that’s as fun and readable as it is seriously informative.