Descriptions of over three dozen historical inventions—a few of which, at least, have turned out to be not as harebrained as they may seem at first glance.
Pride of place goes, of course, to Leonardo da Vinci, though other eccentric visionaries such as Heron of Alexandria (a mysteriously self-opening door) and Nikola Tesla (planetwide wireless electric power) earn nods. Along with a squadron of vehicles that would (supposedly) fly or float into the air, the authors present a variety of ancient timepieces, including one that used scents, oddball vehicles driven by steam, a device that sorts small candies by color, the once-renowned chess-playing (fake) automaton known as the “Mechanical Turk,” an LP record made of ice, a flatulence deodorizer, and like oddities. Nearly all of these saw at least experimental models—though, in the case of Leonardo’s ornithopter, not until 2010. The entries are arranged in no particular order. Most come with labeled schematic illustrations of the invention and, on the following pages, a broader cityscape or other scene featuring witnesses offering humorous comments or critical observations (“We forgot to add brakes!”). Human figures are all caricatures, European of features except for one group of Chinese.
An amiable ramble past some of the quirkier highlights in the history of invention. (Nonfiction. 10-13)