The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry and Invention

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2012-03-15
  • Publisher: Univ of Chicago Pr

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Hardly a week passes without some high-profile court case that features intellectual property at its center. But how did the belief that one could own an idea come about? And how did that belief change the way humankind lives and works? William Rosen, author of Justinian's Flea, seeks to answer these questions and more with The Most Powerful Idea in the World. A lively and passionate study of the engineering and scientific breakthroughs that led to the steam engine, this book argues that the very notion of intellectual property drove not only the invention of the steam engine but also the entire Industrial Revolution: history's first sustained era of economic improvement. To do so, Rosen conjures up an eccentric cast of characters, including the legal philosophers who enabled most the inventive society in millennia, and the scientists and inventors-Thomas Newcomen, Robert Boyle, and James Watt-who helped to create and perfect the steam engine over the centuries. With wit and wide-ranging curiosity, Rosen explores the power of creativity, capital, and collaboration in the brilliant engineering of the steam engine and how this power source, which fueled factories, ships, and railroads, changed human history. Deeply informative and never dull, Rosen's account of one of the most important inventions made by humans is a rollicking ride through history, with careful scholarship and fast-paced prose in equal measure.

Author Biography

William Rosen spent nearly twenty-five years as editor or publisher at Macmillan, Simon Schuster, and the Free Press before beginning to research and write his own books.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. xi
Prologue: Rocketp. xiii
concerning ten thousand years, a hundred lineages, and two revolutions
Changes in the Atmospherep. 3
Concerning how a toy built in Alexandria failed to inspire, and how a glass tube made in Italy succeeded
The spectacle of two German hemispheres attached to sixteen German horses
And the critical importance of nothing at all
A Great Company of Menp. 18
Concerning the many uses of a piston
How the world's first scientific society was founded at a college with no students
And the inspirational value of armories, Nonconformist preachers, incomplete patterns, and sniffing valves
The First and True Inventorp. 43
Concerning a trial over the ownership of a deck of playing cards
A utopian fantasy island in the South Seas; one Statute and two Treatises
and the manner in which ideas were transformed from something one discovers to something one owns
A Very Great Quantity of Heatp. 67
Concerning the discovery of fatty earth
The consequences of the deforestation of Europe
The limitations of waterpower
The experimental importance of a Scotsman's ice cube
And the search for the most valuable jewel in Britain
Science in his Handsp. 90
Concerning the unpredictable consequences of sea air on iron telescopes
The power of the cube-square law
The Incorporation of Hammermen
The nature of insight
And the long-term effects of financial bubbles
The Whole Thing was Arranged in my Mindp. 115
Concerning the surprising contents of a Ladies Diary
Invention by natural selection; the Flynn Effect
Neuronal avalanches
The critical distinction between invention and innovation
And the memory of a stroll on Glasgow Green
Master of Them Allp. 135
Concerning differences among Europe's monastic brotherhoods
The unlikely contribution of the brewing of beer to the forging of iron
The geometry of crystals
And an old furnace made new
A Field that is Endlessp. 158
Concerning the unpredictable consequences of banking crises
A Private Act of Parliament
The folkways of Cornish miners
The difficulties in converting reciprocating into rotational motion
And the largest flour mill in the world
Quite Splendid with a Filep. 189
Concerning the picking of locks
The use of wood in the making of iron, and iron in the making of wood
The very great importance of very small errors
Blocks of all shapes and sizes
And the tool known as "the Lord Chancellor"
To Give England the Power of Cottonp. 212
Concerning the secret of silk spinning
Two men named Kay
A child called Jenny
The breaking of frames
The great Cotton War between Calcutta and Lancashire
And the violent resentments of stocking knitters
Wealth of Nationsp. 248
Concerning Malthusian traps and escapes
Spillovers and residuals
The uneasy relationship between population growth and innovation
And the limitations of Chinese emperors, Dutch bankers, and French revolutionaries
Strong Steamp. 271
Concerning a Cornish Giant, and a trip up Camborne Hill
The triangular relationship between power, weight, and pressure
George Washington's flour mill and the dredging of the Schuylkill River
The long trip from Cornwall to Peru
And the most important railroad race in history
Epilogue: The Fuel of Interestp. 311
Acknowledgmentsp. 325
Notesp. 329
Indexp. 355
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

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