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Imagination and a Pile of Junk: A Droll History of Inventors and Inventions [Hardcover]

Trevor Norton
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

30 Jan 2014

A celebration of the extraordinary people who created the modern world, spiced with anecdotes and wit. Trevor Norton, who has been compared to Gerard Durrell and Bill Bryson, weaves an entertaining history with a seductive mix of eureka moments, disasters and dirty tricks.

Although inventors were often scientists or engineers, many were not: Samuel Morse (Morse code) was a painter, Lazlow Biro (ballpoint) was a sculptor and hypnotist, and Logie Baird (TV) sold boot polish. The inventor of the automatic telephone switchboard was an undertaker who believed the operator was diverting his calls to rival morticians so he decided to make all telephone operators redundant.

Inventors are mavericks indifferent to conventional wisdom so critics were dismissive of even their best ideas: radio had 'no future,' electric light was 'an idiotic idea' and X-rays were 'a hoax.' Even so, the state of New Jersey moved to ban X-ray opera glasses. The head of the General Post Office rejected telephones as unneccesary as there were 'plenty of small boys to run messages.'

Some inventions were almost stillborn; the first vacuum cleaner was horse drawn on a cart. The first zip fasteners didn't zip or fasten. It often took a while for great inventions to be exploited. Transistors languished in hearing aids for ten years before they transformed radios. Twenty years after anaesthetics were invented some hosiptals in Britain were still operating without them, and vaccination ('a giant delusion') had to wait almost a century before it was fully accepted. Even the inventor didn't always know the real use of their discovery. Edison designed the phonograph for dictation not to play music. Nobel thought his dynamite would bring about world peace. Norton answers such burning questions as 'How did embroidery save thousands of lives?' and 'Why did it take a World War to get women to wear bras?'

Inventomania is a magical place where eccentrics are always in season and their stories are usually unbelievable - but rest assured, nothing has been invented.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Coronet (30 Jan 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1444732579
  • ISBN-13: 978-1444732573
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16.2 x 4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 215,915 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


In his whistle-stop tour of inventions large and small, the scientist Trevor Norton shares the Gershwins' view that invention is fundamentally comic... Some of the most amusing bits of Norton's book - whose short chapters encourage you to dip in at random rather than read sequentially - concern those inventions that didn't quite make the grade... Another source of comedy in Norton's history of invention is our changing sense of what matters. (The Sunday Times)

In Norton's breezy telling of man's progress, it is not necessity that is the mother of invention, but other inventors. (Mail on Sunday)

A new book tells the remarkable stories behind our everyday lives. (Daily Express)

He tells these tales of super-human determination with a sharp twinkle in his eye and an unerring instinct for the absurd. (Daily Mail)

Norton humanises honest science and sincere endeavour with humour and respect. (The Times)

Most such histories concentrate either on the Eureka moments or try to convey the mix of inspiration and perspiration that leads to great discoveries. Norton's hugely entertaining romp does both of those, with a large dose of butterscotch ripple provided by the less talented rivals to Archimedes and Edison... For thanks to diligent research Norton has traced the hilarious failures that came before the Eureka moments. Crackpot ideas and great inventions have rarely been combined before to give such a complete and utter picture of the process of inventiveness at its least and most successful... all these and many other necessary failures are lovingly documented by Norton in his all-too-true story of invention. (Daily Express)

Norton tells engaging stories in a very readable manner. (Financial Times)

This fascinating compendium of pioneering progress gives the background to these and many other technological and medical advances... Trevor Norton didn't invent the concept of a great read - but with this wry, entertaining look at the brains behind the breakthroughs, he has definitely delivered on. (Daily Record)

It's a great mix of the history of crackpot ideas and outstanding inventions that demonstrates the process of inventiveness both at its best and worst. (Bournemouth Daily Echo)

Norton takes us on an informative dash through the inventors who have changed our lives with their creations. From tiny transistors to Brunel's great iron ships, their stories spring from this book's pages with good humour and wit. This sympathetic look at the trials of pioneering something revolutionary offers glimpses into the history of invention, explaining how these remarkable men became the pathfinders of modern commercial and domestic life. (The Lady)

Book Description

A droll history of inventors and inventions

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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
3.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Lot better than title sugests...... 22 Jun 2014
By cam
Great book of inventions in a quirky humourist style and never boring. It obviously was a major piece of research and the author has kindly provided his sources which I found useful for a couple of topics.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Slightly oddly written... 23 Mar 2014
By Ed
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Was expecting more of a 'list' format, but it's more 'book-y' than that. Readable, and the usual bunch of freaky facts. But the author has this odd habit of using the first person at times, which is offputting in this context.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Imagination and a Pile of Junk 25 Mar 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Not a book I would recommend anybody wasted their money on!
Only got half way through before it was consigned to the local charity shop.
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