Life beyond Mysteries

Jan 29, 2015 | 2 comments


A Great Read

A Great Read

For once, I have finished reading the Mystery Book Club’s selection for this month and have several days to spare before our Tuesday meeting. I have time to read a book with the intriguing title, How We Got to Now – Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson. It’s a book that Nyel ordered from Timberland Library after we saw an interview with the author on PBS some time ago. We were tenth or eleventh on the wait list.

For starters, the title intrigues me. It reminds me of that age-old topic that I remember from my high school Speech and Debate Class – Which has had a more positive effect on human development, the discovery of fire or the invention of the wheel?

But Johnson’s chosen six topics promise to be far more thought provoking, if that is possible. His chapter titles are “Glass,” “Cold,” “Sound,” “Clean,” “Time,” and “Light.” Thus far, I’ve only completed Chapter One and I am feeling hard-pressed to do anything other than read today. I am definitely hooked.

I had no idea, for instance that glass formed naturally some 26 million years ago over the sands of the Libyan Desert and that a piece of that very glass was found ten thousand years ago, give or take a millennia or two, and eventually wound up as a carved scarab in the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun.   Nor did I know that the fall of Constantinople in 1204 ultimately led to the establishment of the glass-blowing community at Murano, an island in the Venetian Lagoon.

Illustration from "How We Got to Now"

Illustration from “How We Got to Now”

I don’t think I knew that medieval monks, laboring over manuscripts in candlelit rooms, were the first to use glasses. The earliest image of a be-spectacled monk is one of the many fascinating images in Johnson’s book. Furthermore, it certainly never occurred to me that with Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press came the realization to the literate few that a vast number of them were farsighted; they could only take advantage of the printed word by the assist of roiidi da ogli, “disks for the eyes” and that thanks to the resemblance of these disks to lentil beans (lentes in Latin), they came to be called “lenses.”

All that and more by page 20 of a 250 page book! By page 30, still in the chapter on glass, I had gained a rudimentary understanding of what fiber optics is all about and was rapidly coming to agreement with Johnson as to the importance of silicon dioxide. I was definitely hooked. This book is as good most mysteries and, indeed, much better than some. In the interests of getting on to Chapter Two, I am putting finis to this blog entry with the strong recommendation to my readers to check out How We Got to Now for yourselves! It’s a riveting read.


  1. Stephanie Frieze

    Wow, I had no idea that glass, in some form, was that old! Thanks for the sneak peek at this book!

  2. Diane Buttrell

    Maybe you and Nyel will come to the next reading and share it.
    We can “elevate” you to the second floor.


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