They All Laughed, Ira Flatow

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They All Laughed…From Light Bulbs to Lasers: The Fascinating Stories Behind the Great Inventions That Have Changed Our Lives, Ira Flatow, HarperCollins, 1992, ISBN 0-06-016445-X, $20.00

I found this book while browsing the shelves of Half-Price Books in Bellevue. What I was looking for was some light, entertaining non-fiction–something I could read a chapter or essay of and then put down. I had been having trouble maintaining my concentration on a single book for very long, possibly because my work life had been so erratic recently that I was having trouble slowing my mind down to focus on any one thing. This book filled the bill perfectly.

Basically a series of essays by Flatow, host of Talk of the Nation: Science Fridays and former NPR correspondent, in which he examines basic inventions that we’ve grown to accept as necessities from light bulbs to lasers. Oftentimes what we’ve come to know as “the story” of the invention, like Benjamin Franklin’s kite experiment, is but a brief moment in the chain of events that led to the mass production or use of the object or phenomena. Flatow makes a wonderful argument that more than the common wisdom “inventor” should be credited with the discovery, while never belittling the genius of creation.

The tone is never dry, and the subjects–blenders, televisions, telephones, Velcro, Teflon, nylon, etc.–are stuff from everyday life. At the least, the book provides some interesting trivia on applied science.

[Finished May 1995]

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