The Most Powerful Idea in the World by William Rosen
A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention

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Synopsis

If all measures of human advancement in the last hundred centuries were plotted on a graph, they would show an almost perfectly flat line—until the eighteenth century, when the Industrial Revolution would cause the line to shoot straight up, beginning an almost uninterrupted march of progress.
   
In The Most Powerful Idea in the World, William Rosen tells the story of the men responsible for the Industrial Revolution and the machine that drove it—the steam engine. In the process he tackles the question that has obsessed historians ever since: What made eighteenth-century Britain such fertile soil for inventors? Rosen’s answer focuses on a simple notion that had become enshrined in British law the century before: that people had the right to own and profit from their ideas.
   
The result was a period of frantic innovation revolving particularly around the promise of steam power. Rosen traces the steam engine’s history from its early days as a clumsy but sturdy machine, to its coming-of-age driving the wheels of mills and factories, to its maturity as a transporter for people and freight by rail and by sea. Along the way we enter the minds of such inventors as Thomas Newcomen and James Watt, scientists including Robert Boyle and Joseph Black, and philosophers John Locke and Adam Smith—all of whose insights, tenacity, and ideas transformed first a nation and then the world.
 
William Rosen is a masterly storyteller with a keen eye for the “aha!” moments of invention and a gift for clear and entertaining explanations of science. The Most Powerful Idea in the World will appeal to readers fascinated with history, science, and the hows and whys of innovation itself.
 


From the Hardcover edition.
 

About William Rosen

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William Rosen, the author of the award-winning history Justinian's Flea: Plague, Empire, and the Birth of Europe, was an editor and publisher at Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and the Free Press for nearly twenty-five years. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.
 
Published May 27, 2010 by Random House. 400 pages
Genres: History, Computers & Technology, Professional & Technical, Science & Math, Business & Economics, Travel, Law & Philosophy, Education & Reference. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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Patent law had a lot to do with fostering the “itch to own one’s own work,” and Rosen devotes much of his fascinating, wide-ranging narrative to the importance of common-law rulings in favor of the original inventors—e.g., Attorney General Edward Coke, the influential English jurist at the turn o...

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The New York Times

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How the Industrial Revolution transformed invention itself.

Aug 26 2010 | Read Full Review of The Most Powerful Idea in the...

The Guardian

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"Near this spot in 1765, James Watt conceived the idea for the separate condenser for the steam engine."

Jun 13 2010 | Read Full Review of The Most Powerful Idea in the...

Examiner

Who knew that when the Royal Patent Office in London in 1698 issued a patent for “Raising Water by the Impellent Force of Fire” (the idea to which the title of this book refers) it would set in motion a chain of events whose impact was unprecedented in human history?

Nov 23 2010 | Read Full Review of The Most Powerful Idea in the...

Los Angeles Times

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A young Steampunk's dream, William Rosen's "The Most Powerful Idea in the World" manages to make sense of the many threads that together tell the story of the origins and applications of steam power.

Jul 04 2010 | Read Full Review of The Most Powerful Idea in the...

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