The Invention of Air: A Story Of Science, Faith, Revolution, And The Birth Of America
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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.
Priestley pointedly ends his account of Franklin’s kite with a coda: “This happened in June 1752, a month after the electricians in France had verified the same theory, but before he had heard any thing that they had done.” So many elements from Franklin and Priestley’s future—the folklore and popular mythology, the intellectual camaraderie, the world-changing ideas—are bound together as a first draft in the pages of the History. Franklin had helped Priestley become one of the great scientists
Bansinghall Street followed an accelerated timetable, it’s likely that Priestley would have never stumbled across his “delightful Pyrmont water”; without the brewery, it’s possible that Priestley wouldn’t have thrown himself into the study of gases that dominated the next decade of his research. We tend to talk about the history of ideas in terms of individual genius and broader cultural categories—the spirit of the age, the paradigm of research. But ideas happen in specific physical environments
consequence of its continued situation; for plants growing in several other kinds of air, were all affected in the very same manner. Every succession of leaves was more diminished in size than the preceding. . . . The root decayed, and the stalk also, beginning from the root; and yet the plant continued to grow upward, drawing its nourishment through a black and rotten stem. Priestley’s expectations had been entirely incorrect: in fact, the determined sprig of mint continued growing all summer
plants he put under the glass, spinach proved to be the most effective at restoring the atmosphere inside the glass. In one experiment a spinach plant was able to fill the glass with combustible air in only two days. Franklin returned for another visit to Leeds in June of 1772, this time bringing John Pringle, the Scottish physician who would soon be elected president of the Royal Society. Priestley gave them the full tour of his experiments with restoring air, and the visit seems to have
Schofield, Robert E., ed. A Scientific Autobiography of Joseph Priestley (1733- 1804): Selected Scientific Correspondence. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1966. ———. The Enlightenment of Joseph Priestley: A Study of His Life and Work from 1773 to 1804. University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 1997. ———. The Enlightened Joseph Priestley. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004. Shapin, Steven. The Scientific Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996. Shapin, S., S.