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The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry and Invention: Water, Fire, and the Most Powerful Idea in the World Hardcover – 3 Jun 2010

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape (3 Jun. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224082256
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224082259
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.6 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 265,967 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

`Rosen is skilled at hooking small, local phenomena into a narrative of global sweep and significance'
--The Guardian

`Rosen is skilled at hooking small, local phenomena into a narrative of global sweep and significance' -- The Guardian --The Guardian

"This book runs along a new track like - well, like a Rocket" --The Times

"Its scope and lively intelligence make it the best kind of popular account." --Financial Times

`An enjoyable read... Mr Rosen makes a powerful case'
-- The Economist

Book Description

An enthralling and accessible history of the invention which transformed the world: steam power

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris TOP 500 REVIEWER on 23 Nov. 2010
Format: Hardcover
Who knew that when the Royal Patent Office in London in 1698 issued a patent for "Raising Water by the Impellent Force of Fire" (the idea to which the title of this book refers) it would set in motion a chain of events whose impact was unprecedented in human history? The scope and depth of William Rosen's narrative embrace a number of separate but interdependent disciplines that include law, natural science, economics, anthropology, history (i.e. of people, societies, events, and ideas), mathematics, physics, and politics. I cannot recall a non-fiction book I have read in recent years that I enjoyed more than this one. There are so many reasons. Where to begin?

Here are three. First, I greatly appreciate the scope and depth of his coverage not only of a subject (the development of steam-powered machines) but of an entire era prior to and throughout the Industrial Revolution. His narrative tells a riveting story, replete with a cast of memorable characters (e.g. Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke, James Watt, Abraham Darby, Richard Arkwright, George Stephenson and son Robert, and John Allen and Charles Porter. If most/all of those names are unfamiliar, all the more reason to read this book.) Rosen's story also as dramatic conflicts, plot developments on multiple levels and in multiple areas, and a brilliant analysis of an on-going process of industrial innovation in the 19th century, sustained failure-driven discovery.

I also appreciate Rosen masterful explanation of the interdependence of steam-powered machines with coal, iron, and cotton. Machines made of iron pumped water out of coal mines to produce the fuel the machines needed to transport it to steam-power ships so they could transport cotton that would finance the entire enterprise.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Citizen A on 9 Feb. 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An inspiring book on the Industrial Revolution, the inventors and inventions that made it possible, and the philosophical, scientific, legal and economic milieux out of which it emerged. Rosen maintains that the key to invention and industrialisation is the law of patents and intellectual property in general - "the most powerful idea in the world".

Inventions covered include the steam engine, iron smelting, cotton spinning and weaving machines, the steam locomotive and many more. The factory system is covered, as are the coal mining, railway and many other industries. Rosen vividly describes at length the struggles and triumphs of the numerous inventors in many countries and their inventions. His text makes clear just how many inventions go to make up an industrial revolution, and how many brilliant and tenacious inventors were needed to push the 'project' along.

The scientific background is explored, and it emerges that certain scientific ideas, such as an understanding of the nature of the vacuum and the power of atmospheric pressure, were essential - contrary to assertions elsewhere that the Industrial Revolution was improvised by engineering "hackers" with no scientific knowledge. But, please note: the science of thermodynamic came after the steam engine, despite the fact that it is the science that explains how it works!

The question of population and invention is raised and examined, and Rosen concludes that patent laws are no use to small states, and that specialisation, invention and therefore the potentiality for industrialisation increase with population. The reflexive nature of the process is highlighted - industrialisation bootstrapping itself.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I found this a fascinating book, about a fascinating subject. William has taken Stephenson's steam engine as focal point of an exploration of history, technology and ideas. This is far more than a history of one steam engine, it is a book that uses the advance of technology to reflect on social, economic, legal, political, economic and philosophical issues.

Chapter 12- 'Strong steam' is the chapter that grabbed my attention the most; giving the best summary of the birth of the 'Cornish' engine I have found so far. The story told within that chapter is intertwined with the one told in 'The Last Great Cornish Engineer', a book that explains how William West took the high pressure beam engine to the peak of its development.
navsbooks.wordpress.com

The Last Great Cornish Engineer: William West of TredenhamThe Last Great Cornish Engineer: William West of Tredenham
Sketch of the life of William West C.E. of Tredenham-The last of the great Cornish Engineers
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book explains why the patent system is fundamental to wealth creation, innovation and quality of life. The explanation is set in the context of industrial innovation in the UK and makes fascinating reading. I have given all my copies away...!
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