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The Amazon link in the last paragraph goes to the audiobook.

The hardcover edition can be found at http://www.amazon.com/Invention-Air-Steven-Johnson/dp/1594488525/


thanks! fixed the URL.

Scott M.

Wow, this is perfect timing for me. I've just finished both a Jefferson and a Franklin bio, watched the Adams miniseries, and am starting a Madison bio.

Congrats! Can't wait to read it!

Michael Turro

Very nice... this made my day! Now I have yet another reason to look forward to the Holidays. BTW - Ghost Map was great - should be a movie.


The day *after* Christmas! There goes a perfect gift idea, looks like I'll be pre-ordering for myself instead.

As big a fan as I am of your work, this topic has me more excited than anything you've ever done. Can't wait.


no communist manifesto!? http://lopati.pitas.com/midmay_00.html (may 14 ;)


Really enjoyed The Ghost Map, so I'm very much looking forward to getting my hands on this book, when will it be available in Europe do you know?


This book looks incredible. I cannot wait to read this.


Oh, sounds great! It's on my wishlist, and I'm looking forward to reading it.

On a different note: I do wish your Palin prediction would come true...

Chris Brogan...

I'm so excited to read this one. I started in Everything Bad, and what I like about your projects is how diverse and how applicable they can be.

And man, the Daily Show? I have two goals before the end of 2010. TED or The Daily Show. It depends how selfish I am, I guess. : )

Hugo Hardy

I loved The Ghost Map. This is what brought me to your blog. Can't wait to read this new book. But I'll wait for the paperback edition, which, I hope, will have a nicer cover (or is this red cover a temporary one?).. ;-)


oh awesome! i love your books and can't wait to read this one.


I can't wait, either. Just finishing Mind Wide Open - loving it.

independant bookseller

You can pre-order ANY book from ANY other bookstore. Why did Amazon get special advertisement? Please, your local bookseller is looking out for your needs - support them!

Ghost Map

I became a fan with Ghost Map. I agree with the above poster that it should be made into a movie. It's eerie how much Paul Giamatti looks like Edwin Chadwick. heh.

Looking forward to the new book!


Today I heard you interviewed on the Science Friday show on NPR. Your book sounds absolutely fascinating, with the intersection of Priestley, Adams, Jefferson....I can't wait to find it and read it.

Ron Kley

Stephen -- In the course of your research on Priestly, you must have come across the name of Benjamin Vaughan, who had been a student of Priestley's in England, and who was instrumental in convincing Priestly to emigrate to the U.S. He also corresponded with Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, et. al., and was instrumental in negotiating some key provisions of the Treaty of Paris to end the Revolutionary War. He has been generally ignaored by Historians, but there is a wealth of documentary material concerning his life scattered through a number of repositories. If you might have any interest in the man, I'd be happy to point you to his paper trail.


Frank Lussier

The Invention of Air

I enjoyed this book very much.

Just for the record (page-205,line 7), intelligent design is not a discovery it is a label for creationism, a religious belief.

David McCullough's biography on John Adams somewhat turned me off on Jefferson. Your book turned me back on. Do you recommend a particular Jefferson biography ?

Thank you.

Frank Lussier
Naugatuck, CT


I'm loving your book... bought it because of the chapter The Electricians.

Have you ever visited the Bakken Museum of Electricity in Life in Minneapolis? Or the Burndy Library collection at MIT?

These are both depositories of all the original writings from the pioneers of electricity.


Hi Steven, I saw you on Colbert this week - awesome! Does the name "Ron Blatchley" ring a bell with you? He is the re-enactor of Joseph Priestley at the Priestley house in Northumberland, Pa. I live near the neighboring town of Sunbury. My first encounter with Ron was as an elementary student on a field trip to the Priestley House. Ron, playing Joseph, did a trick where he "turned pennies into gold"! Later, Ron was my chemistry teacher in high school, as well as my landlord, we worked together on building projects, and my wife is a colleague of his wife Fran. A few years ago, we went to see Ron do his reenactment, but got there early. A charter bus pulled up, and all the people who got out had British accents. I made inquiries, and found out they were all members & families of the Royal Chemists, or something like that, who flew over to honor Joseph Priestley on the 200th anniversary of "the birth of modern chemistry". Apparently Priestley is also credited with creating the main scientific methods used by chemists today as well. When I realized their children were unlikely to have pennies on hand, and knowing about the trick, I went into my car coin-stash & started handing out pennies to their kids. However, some of the moms started giving me the "hairy eyeball", until my wife explained WHY, LOL! Anyhow, if you never interviewed or met Ron, it would behoove you to have a chat with him, since he too is a Priestley expert, in the 'second person' at least! Send me an email & I'll put you in touch with him. He would be honored, I'm sure! btw, Sunbury is where Edison lit the first building in the world with electric lights. So, within two neighboring towns, you have "The Inventions of Air AND Light"! Regards, Ross rossg@ptd.net


Hello Steven,

This just in: Funding for the Priestley House is in trouble, due to Pa State cuts.


Term Papers

Blogs are so interactive where we get lots o informative on any topics nice job keep it up !!

David Derbes

Hi, Steven Johnson.

I enjoyed your "Invention of Air" immensely. I have long felt I should know much more about Priestley because of his work with electricity (I'm a high school physics teacher with an abiding interest in the history of physics and math.) Priestley's friendship with Jefferson and his emigration to the US were completely new to me.

I wanted to mention a couple of things to you. At least twice you state or imply that in effect only the relatively well to do had time to do science (at least in the era before government or academic support for research became the standard.) I vaguely recall from a Greek course I had a long time ago that the Greek word σχωλια (scholia; long o) means "leisure". I don't have an OED around to verify that the Latin "schola" that is usually cited as the origin for scholar, school and all that is in fact derived from the Greek for leisure, but that's my guess.

The second thing is that Priestley did something astonishing in physics that you mention, but I think do not give appropriate emphasis to. Franklin discovered that if he gave an electric charge to a tin can, the inside of the can was not electrified. (Faraday did the same thing, and the classroom demonstration is often called "Faraday's Bucket".) Priestley brilliantly linked this to a very difficult result in Newton's Principia; that within a hollow spherical shell of mass, there is no gravity. This follows from the inverse square nature of gravity. Priestley suggested that a hollow metal sphere be made, given a charge on the outside and be examined to see if there were any electrical effect inside. Were there not, this would establish at a stroke the inverse square law, found only approximately by Charles Auguste Coulomb twenty years later. Most freshman college physics books mention this brilliant insight of Priestley's. A very nice demonstration is provided by an old (and almost impossible to find) high school video called "Coulomb's Law" by Eric M. Rogers. Princeton is likely to have a copy as Prof. Rogers taught there for many years. I have a copy of dubious provenance (and less than optimum quality); email me and I'll provide you with a DVD.

Best wishes,
David Derbes




Warren Wightmnan

I have been turned off to this book by your comment on the very first page of the preface in which you diss a presidential candidate for his response to the question of whether he believed in evolution. You quote him as saying that he wasn't planning to write an eighth grade science book but was running for the office of the president of the United States. Your take on this was that he didn't think science was a proper concern for a president. I think you mis-read his comment. It apparently didn't occur to you that the controversy over teaching evolution in public schools is a matter of law rather than executive fiat and that the president would get into the argument only if a bill related to the matter were put on his desk to sign. For the most part, public educational is controlled by state law, not federal law, whch further removes the president from the controversy. To shape a large part of your book around such a shallow interpretation of the candidate's remarks has cooled my ardor for reading further. Sorry.

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I'm a father of three boys, husband of one wife, and author of nine books, host of one television series, and co-founder of three web sites. We split our time between Brooklyn, NY and Marin County, CA. Personal correspondence should go to sbeej68 at gmail dot com. If you're interested in having me speak at an event, drop a line to Wesley Neff at the Leigh Bureau (WesN at Leighbureau dot com.)

My Books

  • Steven Johnson: How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World

    Steven Johnson: How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World
    A history of innovation accompanied by a 6-part TV series on PBS and the BBC, this was the first of my books to crack the top 5 on the NY Times bestseller list. Appropriately for a book that celebrates diverse networks, this was the most collaborative of any of my books. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • Steven Johnson: Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age

    Steven Johnson: Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age
    My first book-length attempt to organize my writings about emergence and networks into something resembling a political philosophy, which I called Peer Progressivism. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

    Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
    An exploration of environments that lead to breakthrough innovation, in science, technology, business, and the arts. I conceived it as the closing book in a trilogy on innovative thinking, after Ghost Map and Invention. But in a way, it completes an investigation that runs through all the books, and laid the groundwork for How We Got To Now. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : The Invention of Air

    The Invention of Air
    The story of the British radical chemist Joseph Priestley, who ended up having a Zelig-like role in the American Revolution. My version of a founding fathers book, and a reminder that most of the Enlightenment was driven by open source ideals. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : The Ghost Map

    The Ghost Map
    The story of a terrifying outbreak of cholera in 1854 London 1854 that ended up changing the world. An idea book wrapped around a page-turner. I like to think of it as a sequel to Emergence if Emergence had been a disease thriller. You can see a trailer for the book here. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter

    Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter
    The title says it all. This one sparked a slightly insane international conversation about the state of pop culture -- and particularly games. There were more than a few dissenters, but the response was more positive than I had expected. And it got me on The Daily Show, which made it all worthwhile. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Mind Wide Open : Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life

    Mind Wide Open : Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life
    My first best-seller, and the only book I've written in which I appear as a recurring character, subjecting myself to a battery of humiliating brain scans. The last chapter on Freud and the neuroscientific model of the mind is one of my personal favorites. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software

    Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software
    The story of bottom-up intelligence, from slime mold to Slashdot. Most of my books sold more copies than this one, but Emergence has influenced the most eclectic mix of fields: political campaigns, web business models, urban planning, the war on terror. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Interface Culture : How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate

    Interface Culture : How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate
    My first. The book I wrote instead of finishing my dissertation, predicting the growing cultural significance of interface and information design. Still relevant, I think. But I haven't read it in a while, so who knows what's in there! (Available from IndieBound here.)

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