I recently finished reading The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson; a thoroughly enjoyable book.
Steven was the keynote speaker at this year’s dConstruct where he ran through a lot of the themes covered in the book—cholera, data visualisation, bottom-up local knowledge—and tied them in with the work he’s doing at Outside.in.
The evening before the conference, the organisers and speakers gathered together for a meal at the excellent Pintxo People. Steven made it just in time, having arrived in Brighton after spending the day in Birmingham researching his next book. I prodded him for more information and he was happy to oblige…
The book is called The Invention of Air and it’s all about Joseph Priestley. But, Steven told me, this won’t be so much about his claim to fame as the discoverer of oxygen—a claim that could also be made by Lavoisier. Rather, The Invention of Air will highlight the fact that Priestley was the first person to make the connection between oxygen and plants. In a way, he could be seen as the father of the green movement.
The other forgotten factor of Priestley’s life is the profound impact he had on the Founding Fathers of the USA. Those idealists who drafted the constitution firmly believed in maintaining a strong connection between politics and science as well as a strong separation between politics and religion. Compare and contrast with the United States of today.
All in all, it sounds like it’s going to be another great mashup of historical storytelling and long zoom thinking. The Invention of Air is will be published in December, 02008.*