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Y like science and history but like to think deeply about the ideas behind those This short book is partly a biography of Joseph Priestley a prolific and divisive 18th century figure who made influential discoveries in science including discovering that plants replace carbon dioxide with oxygen though he didn t put it in uite those terms helped found the Unitarian church and was a bit of a political firebrand Priestley s life and work are interesting subjects and with his ternal optimism chaotic And Bid Him Sing experimental procedures and determination to keep nothing whether scientific discovery or radical religious opinion to himself he s certainly a colorful figure But this book is less impressive there s a little biography a little science a little religion a little history and it doesn t add up to than the sum of its parts The author has a tendency to pontificate on subjects that seemed much profound to him than they were to me like connections between the location of coal deposits and Priestley s life s trajectory But with generous margins and spacing it s a uick read and I learned a bit from itven though I didn t love it Steven Johnson author of the xcellent The Ghost Map here takes on the life of Joseph Priestley The best parts of this book are where he confines himself to the task at hand and gives us details of that life Priestley was a fascinating character a brilliant chemist and one of the most influential scientists of his age He was also a practicing clergyman whose nonconformist views ultimately provoked such a storm in England that he had to flee to America with his family He was friends with Benjamin Franklin Thomas Jefferson and John Adams as a conseuence of these friendships he was to have substantial influence on the development of political thought in the fledgling democracy Priestley wasn t brilliant all the time of course there was his notorious attachment to the phlogiston theory as well as an unhealthy obsession with the Book of Revelation in the final years of his life So the details of Priestley s life certainly provide than adeuate material for an interesting accountIndeed the book is at its most interesting when Johnson confines himself to filling in the biographical record In particular his account of the arly work discovery of what would later be termed Coulomb s Law publication of the History of Electricity invention of soda water and the two Bones, Clones, and Biomes experiments whichstablished Priestley s reputation the work showing that plants synthesize oxygen his later discovery of oxygen is xcellent Unfortunately Johnson then seems to lose his moorings a bit Understandably he wants to put Priestley s scientific contributions in historical perspective But this leads him to include what can only be called bloviation ponderous pseudo profound musings about paradigm shifts regrettable metaphors about the nature of scientific progress down the ages and sentences like these In the next decade the three paths would combine to form a mighty highway one that would ultimately drive Priestley all the way to the New WorldSeeing human history as A SERIES OF INTENSIFYING ENERGY FLOWS IS ONE WAY series of intensifying nergy flows is one way the classic opposition between the Great Men and Collectivist visions of historyWhat is the internal chemistry of a mob Tellingly mob and Collectivist visions of historyWhat is the internal chemistry of a mob Tellingly mob inevitably gravitates toward displays of intense nergy transfer the collective strength of a hundred nraged men pulling a building apart and unleashing the destructive oxidizing force of combustion Where are the Building the Cold War editors when you need them Seriously dudease off on the goddamned chemistry metaphors wouldja They make you seem like a moron which you re notFor a prolonged stretch in its middle third the book ceases to be mainly about Priestley degenerating instead into a kind of look at me I m Steven Johnson see how clever I am morass This is unfortunate because Canadian Art, Volume 1 (A-F) even the most pedestrian of Priestley s biographical details would be interesting than Johnson s views on the nature of scientific progress which seemed to me to be short on content long on pomposity This actually surprised me because I ve heard him interviewed on the radio and he seemed uite sensible and unpretentiousFortunately things get back on track or less for the remaining third of the book describing the rising tide of violence that forced the Priestleys to flee to America and the scientist s final years in PennsylvaniaDespite the misgivingsxpressed above I really Counter-Amores enjoyed this book and have no hesitation in recommending it But I do hope that Steven Johnson gets himself a betterditor on his next project I ve put this on my terrific shelf for now despite reservations about Johnson s style because Priestley s life was genuinely fascinating I would have liked this to have been a much better book There were parts of it where it showed promise but those parts were swamped in what was mostly junk polymathism That is a new phrase I ve made up I think it might Dancing at Armageddon even prove handy I am going to use it as a way to describe someone who has decided to refer to multiple disciplines but not really use them in a way that shines new light onither the topic at hand or on the discipline referred to Worst of all was the fact that when he referred to some subjects Kuhn and Hegel in particular his knowledge of the topics was so superficial th. S most prominent religious figures and most outspoken political thinkers Yet he would also have become one of the most hated men in all of his native England When an angry mob burned down his house in Birmingham Priestley and his family set sail for PennsylvaniaIn the nascent United States Priestley hoped to find the freedom to bridge the disciplines that had governed his life to find a uiet lab and a receptive pulpit Once he arrived as a result of his close relationships with the Founding Fathers Jefferson credited Priestley as the man who prevented him from abandoning Christianity Priestley found himself at the center of what would go down as one of the seminal deba. The classic case study for the concept of a paradigm shift is the Compernican revolution in astronomy but in actual fact the first Double Jeopardy extended story that Kuhn tells in The Structure of Scientific Revoutions is the paradigm shift in chemistry that took place in the 1770s led by the revolutionary science of Joseph PriestlyAre you freaking kidding me Who read that sentence and remembered what the first half of it was by the time they got to thend This book is ostensibly a biography of Joseph Priestley one of the central figures in the Composition and Literature eighteenth century movement known as the Enlightenment which included fundamental changes in science politics and religion And Priestly was involved in all aspects of those changes It is a fascinating well written book a short uick read I like Johnson s style but notveryone does He freuently strays from the strict subject of Priestley s life to discuss general topics like the need for intellectual networks such as those Cezanne and Provence enjoyed by Priestley in today s world and comparing the coffeehouse scholarly gatherings of the 1780s to the internet of today Injoy those digressions My one complaint about the book is that it seemed a little light on the actual details of Priestley s life But on the whole I Dark Voices enjoyed and would strongly recommend this book A lovely review of the life of a relatively obscure scientistphilosopher and the times when science politics and religion were much intercommunicative spheres than they are now IOW this guy invented soda water founded Unitarianism and corresponded with Franklin Adams and Jefferson Plus interesting digressions into the geohistory of coalJohnson makes a fascinating argument for ancosystem metaphor of human history civilization throughout as well and I think it serves in moving through the different scales of change addressed in the book At what point is history influenced by individual uirks broad social movements accidents of geology Contested Reproduction etctc and this allows for all those levels to be in operation at oncePlus the thing that I find I like about all of Johnson s work is his innate sense of optimism Something of the Enlightenment spirit seems to motivate him and perhaps a belief in the better angels of our nature I saw him at SXSWi 09 and was struck by his optimism in an area where most others are pretty damn gloomy In any case for me it makes his writing a genuine pleasure to read This book was no Divided by Color (American Politics and Political Economy Series) exception Shit is this a book ABOUT PHLOGISTON I became OBSESSED with that stuff at SJC I must have this soonest immediately Joseph Priestly did not invent air Rather he was instrumental in discovering it Let alone Joseph s influence on America as a newly born country s political scientific and faith culture Regardless I find this book very well written and a personalpiphony discovering my family is related to him Steve Johnson s writing style is Creating Country Music easy to readntertaining and informing Johnson has good ideas but I don t find him the most fluid author He s got a great subject in Joseph Priestly who helped determine the Blacklands existence of oxygen and the fact that plants create an atmosphere that can sustain a flame or the life of a mouse Priestly was also a radical Unitarian minister who wrote treatises outlining all the magical accretions that he thought undermined a purer Christian faith and was a bit toonthusiastic about the French Revolution this last part got him driven out of England by a mob and the crown Friends with Franklin Adams and Jefferson creator of carbonated water uite a resume Johnson does not write a strict biography but rather uses Priestly as a case study of how ideas and revolutions Priestly as a case study of how ideas and revolutions

science happen what 
happen what the necessary frameworks and the Johnson is an interesting author On the surface he s straight up science history but he often takes xtended detours into the philosophy of science and politics Some people might find this unexpected but I really like it because the uestions that he grapples with are ones that I ve also thought long and hard about and his approach to thinking about these issues are so closely aligned with my ownThe book xplores some very interesting topics not least of which is in his intermezzo chapter about the Carboniferous Period and the reason for the spike and then stabilization of atmospheric oxygen He goes well beyond the basic story you can read about Evolution As Entropy elsewhere that plant lifexploded about 300 years ago and spit tons of oxygen into the atmosphere Forging Gay Identities everyone knows that but hexplains why it happens and why thenThe Forbidden History ending chapter also really strong It s about Priestley s relationship with John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and it s really interesting He does a really good jobxplaining how Priestley s science and politics went hand in hand He also has an interesting Kuhnian spin throughout Johnson s philosophical approach really works in this one much better than in The Ghost Map The Story of London s Most Terrifying Epidemic and How It Changed Science Cities and the Modern World because it s that much consistant You also find in this book many of the seeds of the ideas he talks about in Where Good Ideas Come from The Natural History of Innovation This book can be taken as a sort of case study of that book as well as Thomas S Kuhn s The Structure of Scientific RevolutionsI highly recommend this one IF YOU NOT ONL. THE you not onl. The of Air is a story of sweeping historical transformation of genius and friendship violence and world changing ideas that boldly recasts our understanding of the most significant Fiche Blian ag Fás events in our historyIt centers on the story of Joseph Priestley scientist and minister protégé of Benjamin Franklin friend of Thomas Jefferson anighteenth century radical thinker who played key roles in the invention of Esteem Enlivened by Desire ecosystem science the discovery of oxygen the founding of the Unitarian church and the intellectual development of the United States Priestley represented a uniue synthesis by the 1780s he hadstablished himself as one of the world's most celebrated scientist.

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At it was hard not to wonder why he bothered Flights of Fancy, Leaps of Faith explaining them when he might have seemed intelligent if he had just kept to the topic at hand I mean why bother to give a description of Hegelian Dialectics if all you are going to say is thesis antithesis synthesis There were bits of this book that I uite liked despite them being hidden under a mountain of junk And those were the bits where he discusses how Priestley came to find out if not actually discover oxygen This book really could have done with a goodditor I think that unless you are a particularly good story teller and this guy just isn t I think the best policy is to tell the story in chronological order In fact this is good advice ven if you are a great writer Life has a way of ordering things seuentially that makes sense If you are going to mess around with that it is probably best that you have a very good reason Not that he played around with time too much but I would bet this guy can t tell a good joke I would bet he gives the punchline away before he is half way throughThe point is that there were bits of this I really liked Here is a guy who leaves England because he is too radical to remain there and is welcomed to the newly formed United States as the friend of two arly Presidents and also Benjamin Franklin This is an Age of Enlightenment hero the guy who discovered Oxygen no less and yet And yetBad writing really does get in the way of They Shall Be One Flesh even the best of stories and I felt some of his asides to discuss paradigm shiftscosystems and such stuff were so cursory as to take away from the book rather than add to it He discusses the great man of history idea and comes to something like the same conclusion as Gladwell in Outliers if not as The Heritage of Arabo-Islamic Learning extreme a version as Gladwell andxtremely right I think But this is uninspired and uninspiring Yes I can see why it was put into the book one would need to Hereward (Hereward, explain why Priestley made uite so many momentous discoveries but what we are left with here is so bland and so opinionated that it adds nothing to the bookRight the good bitsThe best of this was the discussion of how he worked out how bad air became good air again I have often wondered how they worked out that plants had something to do with putting oxygen back into air It is a bit like how they worked out that plants feed on sun light you do have to wonder how anyone would think to test such an ideaPriestley wasxactly the sort of guy who would come up with an Under One Sky experiment to test that sort of thing If you were to make up a story as a just so story called How Some Guy in a Powdered Wig Discovered the Secret of Breathing you might think he had already guessed that plants somehow made oxygen and so tried to think upxperiments to prove just that That is not what happened If PETA had been around in the 18th century there is little doubt that they would have been picketing Priestley s house Just before he left England his house was burnt to the ground the standard version is that this was due to conservatives in England who objected to his rationalist republican views I wouldn t be surprised if one day a letter turns up proving it was an organisation called people for the thical treatment Of Mice That Did The Deed But mice that did the deed But man can only torture so many mice to death before his attention turns to killing other of God s creatures I ought to do this in order Priestly worked out that if You Put A Mouse put a mouse a glass container and put this container upside down in some water so that air could not get in the glass of the glass container made a wonderful means to let you watch the mouse slowly xpire You may not think this is very Groom and Doom entertaining but you do have to remember they didn t have television at the time Anyway he had lots of data on how long it took your average mouse to die when left in the chamber with very little air So he started killing off other creatures and measuring how long they would take to dieThen he had a brilliant idea Since there was no challenge in killing animals any now he wanted to see how long it would take to kill plants So he rushed out to the garden and got himself some mint He popped this into the machine and much to his disappointment the mint seemed to go on livingven in the worst of air air already breathed up by an x mouse After a week or so he decided to pop of air air already breathed up by an x mouse After a week or so he decided to pop mouse back into the glass and was surprised to find that it didn t die straight away as it ought to have given there should have been no oxygen left in there Somehow the plant had replaced all of the oxygen in the containerNot that it was called oxygen at the time of course Later when he was able to do Murder at the Savoy (Martin Beck, experiments that produced oxygen he found that god s air the stuff that is all around us could actually be improved on something that must have challenged his religious sensibilities Not only could oxygennriched air keep the mouse alive for longer but it made candles burn for longer too This was actually the source of his 22 Britannia Road error about oxygen which he confused with the mythical fluid substance that allowed things to burn phlogiston He was nearly right but others around him were soLike I said this could and should have been a much better book and would have been if he was interested in telling the story of the life of Priestley rather than the author showing himself off as a bit of a polymat. Tes in American history And as Johnson brilliant charts Priestleyxerted profound if little known influence on the shape and course of this great Gabe Izzy experiment in nation buildingAs in his most recent bestselling work The Ghost Map Steven Johnson here uses a dramatic historical story toxplore themes that have long Nigella Bijt engaged him innovation and the way new ideasmerge and spread and the Seventh Circle (Vampires Realm, environments that foster these breakthroughs As he did in Everything Bad is Good for You he 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 clearyed louent assessment of where we stand today. The Invention of Air