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The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America

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The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America Cover

 

Review-A-Day

"Johnson pays particular attention to Priestley's interactions with Jefferson and Adams regarding religion and politics (Priestley opposed the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, and there was pressure on Adams to deport him). In many respects, this part of the book was the most novel to me. I had had no idea that Priestley was more than a spent force in America, much less that he was simultaneously an object of admiration and a bone of controversy to Jefferson and Adams." Seymour Mauskopf, American Scientist (read the entire American Scientist review)

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Bestselling author Steven Johnson recounts in dazzling, multidisciplinary fashion, the story of the brilliant man who embodied the relationship between science, religion, and politics for America's Founding Fathers.

The Invention of Air is a book of world-changing ideas wrapped around a compelling narrative, a story of genius and violence and friendship in the midst of sweeping historical change that provokes us to recast our understanding of the Founding Fathers.

It is the story of Joseph Priestley, a scientist and theologian, protégé of Benjamin Franklin, friend of Thomas Jefferson, an eighteenth-century radical thinker who played pivotal roles in the invention of ecosystem science, the discovery of oxygen, the founding of the Unitarian Church, and the intellectual development of the United States. And it is a story that only Steven Johnson, acclaimed juggler of disciplines and provocative ideas, can do justice to.

In the 1780s, Priestley had established himself in his native England as a brilliant scientist, a prominent minister, and an outspoken advocate of the American Revolution, who had sustained long correspondences with Franklin, Jefferson, and John Adams. Ultimately, his radicalism made his life politically uncomfortable, and he fled to the nascent United States. Here, he was able to build conceptual bridges linking the scientific, political, and religious impulses that governed his life. And through his close relationships with the Founding Fathers, Jefferson credited Priestley as the man who prevented him from abandoning Christianity, he exerted profound if little-known influence on the shape and course of our history.

As in his last bestselling work, The Ghost Map, Steven Johnson here uses a dramatic historical story to explore themes that have long engaged him: innovation and the way new ideas emerge and spread, and the environments that foster these breakthroughs. And as he did in Everything Bad Is Good for You, Johnson upsets some fundamental assumptions about the world we live in — namely, what it means when we invoke the Founding Fathers and replaces them with a clear-eyed, eloquent assessment of where we stand today.

Review:

"Signature Reviewed by Simon Winchester This is an intelligent retelling of a rather well-known story, that of Joseph Priestley, the Yorkshire dissenting theologian and chemist, and then went on to emigrate to America and advised the creators of the new republic — Thomas Jefferson, most notably — on how best to run their country. Steven Johnson, who has a fine reputation for discerning trends and for his iconoclastic appreciation of popular culture, chooses his topics well. His most recent book, The Ghost Map, looked at the story — also very familiar — of the London cholera epidemic of 1854, and of the heroic epidemiologist, John Snow, who discovered the ailment's origins and path of transmission. It was a good story, but essentially a simple one. With Priestley, Johnson has now taken on a subject that is every bit as complex and multifaceted as any of the Quentin Tarantino films he so admires. Priestley was a scientist, true, and his meditations on the exhalations of gases from mint leaves and the curiosities of phlogiston and 'fixed air,' his discoveries of sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, ammonia gas — and oxygen, most importantly — and his relationship with his French rival Lavoisier have been the stuff of schoolroom chemistry lessons for more than two centuries. But it is his politically liberal and spiritually dissenting views that underpin the story that Johnson chooses to tell — views that led in 1794 to Priestley, whose house in Birmingham had been sacked by rioters, emigrating to America, thereby becoming "the first great scientist-exile, seeking safe harbour in America after being persecuted for his religious and political beliefs at home. Albert Einstein, Otto Frisch, Edward Teller, Xiao Qiang — they would all follow in Priestley's footsteps." Johnson unearths an interesting and illuminating statistic: in the 165 letters that passed between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, the name Benjamin Franklin is mentioned five times, George Washington three times, Alexander Hamilton twice — and Joseph Priestley, a foreign immigrant, is cited no fewer than 52 times. The influence of the man — he was a fervent supporter of the French Revolution, a tolerant stoic and a rationalist utterly opposed to religious fundamentalism — was quite astonishing, and Steven Johnson makes a brave and generally successful attempt to summarize and parse the degree to which this influence infected the founding principles of the American nation. As a reminder of the underlying sanity and common sense of this country — a reminder perhaps much needed after the excesses of a displeasing presidential election campaign — The Invention of Air succeeds like a shot of the purest oxygen. Illus. Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman, is working on a biography of the Atlantic Ocean." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"The Enlightenment-era Renaissance man Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) has been overshadowed by his American friends Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. But...Steven Johnson sets out to give this minister, historian, and scientist the credit he deserves." Very Short List

Review:

"[Johnson] recounts Priestley's career-making friendship with Benjamin Franklin and how he incensed the torch wielders with his Unitarianism and the Adams administration with his advocacy of French revolutionary principles." Booklist

Review:

"[Johnson] tells the story in a reader-friendly manner that also encourages readers to think about how these themes apply in today's world." Library Journal

Synopsis:

Bestselling author Johnson recounts the story of Joseph Priestley— scientist and theologian, protégé of Benjamin Franklin — an 18th-century radical thinker who played pivotal roles in the invention of ecosystem science, the founding of the Unitarian Church, and the intellectual development of the U.S.

Synopsis:

From the author of The Ghost Map and Everything Bad Is Good for You, a new national bestseller: the exhilarating (Los Angeles Times) story of a founding father long forgotten.(Newsweek)

National bestselling author Steven Johnson tells the fascinating story of Joseph Priestley — scientist and theologian, protégé of Benjamin Franklin, friend of Thomas Jefferson — an eighteenth-century radical thinker who played pivotal roles in the invention of ecosystem science, the discovery of oxygen, the founding of the Unitarian Church, and the intellectual development of the United States. As he did so masterfully in The Ghost Map, Steven Johnson uses a dramatic historical story to explore themes that have long engaged him: innovation and the way new ideas emerge and spread, and the environments that foster these breakthroughs.

Synopsis:

From the bestselling author of Where Good Ideas Come From, The Ghost Map and Everything Bad Is Good for You, a new national bestseller: the “exhilarating”( Los Angeles Times) story of Joseph Priestley, “a founding father long forgotten”(Newsweek) and a brilliant man who embodied the relationship between science, religion, and politics for America's Founding Fathers.

In The Invention of Air, national bestselling author Steven Johnson tells the fascinating story of Joseph Priestley—scientist and theologian, protégé of Benjamin Franklin, friend of Thomas Jefferson—an eighteenth-century radical thinker who played pivotal roles in the invention of ecosystem science, the discovery of oxygen, the uses of oxygen, scientific experimentation, the founding of the Unitarian Church, and the intellectual development of the United States. As he did so masterfully in The Ghost Map, Steven Johnson uses a dramatic historical story to explore themes that have long engaged him: innovative strategies, intellectual models, and the way new ideas emerge and spread, and the environments that foster these breakthroughs.

 

About the Author

Steven Johnson is the author of the national bestsellers The Ghost Map, Everything Bad Is Good for You, and Mind Wide Open, as well as Emergence and Interface Culture. He was the cofounder of the online magazine FEED and is a contributing editor to Wired.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

Bentley, June 16, 2010 (view all comments by Bentley)
This is a very enjoyable biography/ history of science/ intellectual history book. Johnson covers the life and work of Priestly while putting him in his intellectual milieu of the Honest Whigs, Franklin, Lavoisier, Adams, and Jefferson all the while offering insight into the history and philosophy of science. As this book makes clear, Priestly was not just a scientist, but a theologian and political thinker as well. Highly recommended.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(5 of 8 readers found this comment helpful)

Product Details

ISBN:
9781594484018
Author:
Johnson, Steven
Publisher:
Riverhead Books
Subject:
History
Subject:
General
Subject:
History of Science-General
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series Volume:
A Story Of Science,
Publication Date:
20090931
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
from 12
Language:
English
Pages:
304
Dimensions:
8.22x5.46x.65 in. .59 lbs.
Age Level:
17-17

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Sale Books
History and Social Science » US History » Colonial America
Reference » Science Reference » General
Science and Mathematics » History of Science » General

The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America Sale Trade Paper
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$7.98 In Stock
Product details 304 pages Riverhead Books - English 9781594484018 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Signature Reviewed by Simon Winchester This is an intelligent retelling of a rather well-known story, that of Joseph Priestley, the Yorkshire dissenting theologian and chemist, and then went on to emigrate to America and advised the creators of the new republic — Thomas Jefferson, most notably — on how best to run their country. Steven Johnson, who has a fine reputation for discerning trends and for his iconoclastic appreciation of popular culture, chooses his topics well. His most recent book, The Ghost Map, looked at the story — also very familiar — of the London cholera epidemic of 1854, and of the heroic epidemiologist, John Snow, who discovered the ailment's origins and path of transmission. It was a good story, but essentially a simple one. With Priestley, Johnson has now taken on a subject that is every bit as complex and multifaceted as any of the Quentin Tarantino films he so admires. Priestley was a scientist, true, and his meditations on the exhalations of gases from mint leaves and the curiosities of phlogiston and 'fixed air,' his discoveries of sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, ammonia gas — and oxygen, most importantly — and his relationship with his French rival Lavoisier have been the stuff of schoolroom chemistry lessons for more than two centuries. But it is his politically liberal and spiritually dissenting views that underpin the story that Johnson chooses to tell — views that led in 1794 to Priestley, whose house in Birmingham had been sacked by rioters, emigrating to America, thereby becoming "the first great scientist-exile, seeking safe harbour in America after being persecuted for his religious and political beliefs at home. Albert Einstein, Otto Frisch, Edward Teller, Xiao Qiang — they would all follow in Priestley's footsteps." Johnson unearths an interesting and illuminating statistic: in the 165 letters that passed between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, the name Benjamin Franklin is mentioned five times, George Washington three times, Alexander Hamilton twice — and Joseph Priestley, a foreign immigrant, is cited no fewer than 52 times. The influence of the man — he was a fervent supporter of the French Revolution, a tolerant stoic and a rationalist utterly opposed to religious fundamentalism — was quite astonishing, and Steven Johnson makes a brave and generally successful attempt to summarize and parse the degree to which this influence infected the founding principles of the American nation. As a reminder of the underlying sanity and common sense of this country — a reminder perhaps much needed after the excesses of a displeasing presidential election campaign — The Invention of Air succeeds like a shot of the purest oxygen. Illus. Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman, is working on a biography of the Atlantic Ocean." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "Johnson pays particular attention to Priestley's interactions with Jefferson and Adams regarding religion and politics (Priestley opposed the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, and there was pressure on Adams to deport him). In many respects, this part of the book was the most novel to me. I had had no idea that Priestley was more than a spent force in America, much less that he was simultaneously an object of admiration and a bone of controversy to Jefferson and Adams." (read the entire American Scientist review)
"Review" by , "The Enlightenment-era Renaissance man Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) has been overshadowed by his American friends Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. But...Steven Johnson sets out to give this minister, historian, and scientist the credit he deserves."
"Review" by , "[Johnson] recounts Priestley's career-making friendship with Benjamin Franklin and how he incensed the torch wielders with his Unitarianism and the Adams administration with his advocacy of French revolutionary principles."
"Review" by , "[Johnson] tells the story in a reader-friendly manner that also encourages readers to think about how these themes apply in today's world."
"Synopsis" by , Bestselling author Johnson recounts the story of Joseph Priestley— scientist and theologian, protégé of Benjamin Franklin — an 18th-century radical thinker who played pivotal roles in the invention of ecosystem science, the founding of the Unitarian Church, and the intellectual development of the U.S.
"Synopsis" by , From the author of The Ghost Map and Everything Bad Is Good for You, a new national bestseller: the exhilarating (Los Angeles Times) story of a founding father long forgotten.(Newsweek)

National bestselling author Steven Johnson tells the fascinating story of Joseph Priestley — scientist and theologian, protégé of Benjamin Franklin, friend of Thomas Jefferson — an eighteenth-century radical thinker who played pivotal roles in the invention of ecosystem science, the discovery of oxygen, the founding of the Unitarian Church, and the intellectual development of the United States. As he did so masterfully in The Ghost Map, Steven Johnson uses a dramatic historical story to explore themes that have long engaged him: innovation and the way new ideas emerge and spread, and the environments that foster these breakthroughs.

"Synopsis" by ,
From the bestselling author of Where Good Ideas Come From, The Ghost Map and Everything Bad Is Good for You, a new national bestseller: the “exhilarating”( Los Angeles Times) story of Joseph Priestley, “a founding father long forgotten”(Newsweek) and a brilliant man who embodied the relationship between science, religion, and politics for America's Founding Fathers.

In The Invention of Air, national bestselling author Steven Johnson tells the fascinating story of Joseph Priestley—scientist and theologian, protégé of Benjamin Franklin, friend of Thomas Jefferson—an eighteenth-century radical thinker who played pivotal roles in the invention of ecosystem science, the discovery of oxygen, the uses of oxygen, scientific experimentation, the founding of the Unitarian Church, and the intellectual development of the United States. As he did so masterfully in The Ghost Map, Steven Johnson uses a dramatic historical story to explore themes that have long engaged him: innovative strategies, intellectual models, and the way new ideas emerge and spread, and the environments that foster these breakthroughs.

 

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