FORKS, PHONOGRAPHS, AND HOT-AIR BALLOONS

A FIELD GUIDE TO INVENTIVE THINKING

First-time author Weber (Psychology/Oklahoma State) on how inventions—from doorknobs to Velcro—come to be. Weber sees invention as ``the connection between technology and the creative spark or crawl of the mind.'' Often, this connection is made by ``parsing''—dividing an invention into its parts or procedures. Thus, the Wright Brothers achieved motorized flight by parsing their goal into problems of lift, power, and control, and addressing each in turn, while rival aeronauts with greater financial resources failed through inadequate analysis. Weber gives lessons on how to describe, compare, and evaluate inventions: An elaborate chart detailing differences between nail and screws is typical and may lead some to wonder whether the writer is belaboring the obvious. Fledgling inventors may be more enthusiastic over Weber's discussion of ``heuristics,'' a ``rule of thumb for generating ideas or for solving problems.'' Heuristics range from repetition (``once an interesting component is discovered...try copying or repeating it as often as necessary'') to linkage (``try joining those tools or devices that undo the actions of one another. These are often useful combinations'') or transformation (how did the tooth evolve into the saw?). Upon this rather abstract loom, Weber weaves the story of dozens of devices, from forks to coffeepots to screws. He dotes on handles and containers (the latter involved in everything from tea bags to cooking pots). Invention is more than objects, as he shows by parsing a supermarket into the various shopping ``procedures'' that make it tick. A final chapter, on gene splicing between different species, draws some doubtful parallels between ancient mythology and modern gene splicing, and is notable for failing to address the moral issues involved. Covers some of the same ground as Henry Petroski's The Evolution of Useful Things (p. 1297), with less flair but more hands-on advice. (Thirty illustrations.)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-19-506402-X

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1992

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

THE LAWS OF HUMAN NATURE

A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should...

MASTERY

Greene (The 33 Strategies of War, 2007, etc.) believes that genius can be learned if we pay attention and reject social conformity.

The author suggests that our emergence as a species with stereoscopic, frontal vision and sophisticated hand-eye coordination gave us an advantage over earlier humans and primates because it allowed us to contemplate a situation and ponder alternatives for action. This, along with the advantages conferred by mirror neurons, which allow us to intuit what others may be thinking, contributed to our ability to learn, pass on inventions to future generations and improve our problem-solving ability. Throughout most of human history, we were hunter-gatherers, and our brains are engineered accordingly. The author has a jaundiced view of our modern technological society, which, he writes, encourages quick, rash judgments. We fail to spend the time needed to develop thorough mastery of a subject. Greene writes that every human is “born unique,” with specific potential that we can develop if we listen to our inner voice. He offers many interesting but tendentious examples to illustrate his theory, including Einstein, Darwin, Mozart and Temple Grandin. In the case of Darwin, Greene ignores the formative intellectual influences that shaped his thought, including the discovery of geological evolution with which he was familiar before his famous voyage. The author uses Grandin's struggle to overcome autistic social handicaps as a model for the necessity for everyone to create a deceptive social mask.

Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should beware of the author's quirky, sometimes misleading brush-stroke characterizations.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02496-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more