WASHINGTON (September 6, 2011)—Cloud computing, self-driving cars, planetary sunshields, breathalyzers to detect cancer — a new book from National Geographic, THE BIG IDEA: How Breakthroughs of the Past Shape the Future (National Geographic Books; ISBN 978-1-4262-0810-2; on sale Sept. 6, 2011; $35 hardcover), explains how visionary ideas and world-changing inventions of the future build on the big inventions and discoveries of the past such as the transistor, the assembly line, the gyroscope, even the abacus, paper and wheel.
The book — with a foreword by Timothy Ferris, named “best science writer of our generation” by The Washington Post — tells the fascinating and intertwining stories of 24 of the biggest ideas in science and technology today — 24 life-changing innovations, destined to shape our future in ways that we can only begin to imagine. Every one of these innovations builds on the ideas, experiments, observations and constructions that preceded it. For example, there would be no electric car were it not for the induction motor, or the generation and storage of electricity, or the smelting of iron or the invention of the wheel.
“The point of this book is to make such connections, across all realms of experience and through the centuries. Here, we begin with the present, or even the future, and track back, with each turn of the page stepping farther back into the past,” states the introduction.
The book is divided into six chapters, each covering a realm of science and technology: “Information & Communication,” which includes computing and broadcasting; “Health & Medicine,” with a focus on the human body; “Physics & the Cosmos,” which includes observations of outer space and principles governing Earth’s physical world; “Chemistry & Materials,” featuring the analysis, synthesis and manipulation of matter; “Biology & the Environment,” detailing our understanding of the world we live in; and “Transportation & Space Exploration,” focusing on the many ways humans have found to move and explore.
The baseline of every chapter is a reverse-chronological time line. Each time line plots the important innovations, significant developments or breakthrough events in that realm: the stepping stones of science and technology on which the big ideas of today and tomorrow build. The dates on each time line begin close to the present day and move back through the past, tracking the flow of influence.
Each of the six chapters features four big ideas of the future and 40 to 50 landmark ideas going back through time. Illustrations, artifacts and clear technical information illustrate how human innovation and progress build, one big idea at a time.
With its close look at the origins of today’s fast-paced world, THE BIG IDEA treats readers to interesting and digestible facts along the way:
- Augmented Reality is a cutting-edge technology that has its roots in the abacus.
- Research on stem cells is driving current work in regenerative medicine — the growing of replacement body parts.
- Anton van Leeuwenhoek, born to a family of basket makers, examined everything from lake water to his own feces, becoming the first human to perceive microscopic life, and his work is essential to progress being made in the field of nanomedicine.
- Einstein’s general theory of relativity, conceived almost 100 years ago, is laying the groundwork for theorizing quantum gravity and explaining the gravitational pull of heavenly bodies.
- Understanding the intricacies of Earth’s ecosystem will pave the way for terraforming other planets such as Mars.
Whether you are interested in the features in tomorrow’s cell phone or how hospitals of the future will grow new limbs, THE BIG IDEA shows that theories from the past become the realities of the future, and the big ideas of today will surely become the big accomplishments of tomorrow.
About foreword writer Timothy Ferris
Author Timothy Ferris, called “the best popular science writer in the English language” by the Christian Science Monitor and “best science writer of our generation” by The Washington Post, has written a dozen books, including “Seeing in the Dark,” “The Whole Shebang” and “Coming of Age in the Milky Way.” His books have been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Ferris also created the Voyager phonograph record, a relic of human civilization depicting life on Earth that was launched aboard the twin Voyager spacecraft. Ferris is a former newspaper reporter and editor of Rolling Stone magazine. He has contributed to The New Yorker, National Geographic, The New York Review of Books, Forbes, Harper’s Magazine, Life, Nature, Time, Newsweek, Reader’s Digest, Scientific American, The Nation, The New Republic and The New York Times. A fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Ferris is professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley.