BooksJacket Copy

Author Steven Johnson to host new PBS series, 'How We Got to Now'

AuthorsPBS (tv network)Tim Berners-LeeMark ZuckerbergApple iPhone

Author Steven Johnson is getting his own PBS television show, “How We Got to Now.”

Johnson has written eight books about science and technology, including the bestselling “Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter,” and, most recently, “Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age.”

A six-part series, “How We Got to Now with Steven Johnson” will explain how certain inventions have reverberated in throughout history.

For example, an episode called “Clean” will explain “how the search for clean water opened the way to invention of the iPhone,” and “Refrigeration” will show “how the nagging problem of overheating in a New York printing business led to the invention of air conditioning, which inspired mass migration and a political transformation,” according to a PBS statement.

On his own blog, Johnson wrote, "The show builds on many of themes in the innovation history trilogy of 'The Ghost Map,' 'The Invention of Air,' and 'Where Good Ideas Come From,' but is based on new material with a completely different structure. Each hour-long episode takes one facet of modern life that we mostly take for granted — artificial cold, clean drinking water, the lenses in your spectacles — and tells the 500-year story of how that innovation came into being: the hobbyists and amateurs and entrepreneurs and collaborative networks that collectively made the modern world possible."

Johnson will host the show, acting as "storyteller and tour guide." He writes, "I’ll be the one descending into the sewers or staring through the telescope at the top of Mauna Kea. Or looking totally ridiculous dressed up as a 19th-century gentleman in a carriage in Savannah."

The show will feature an unlikely cast of historical characters, including Thomas Alva Edison; frozen-vegetable entrepreneur Clarence Birdseye; Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web; Hollywood actress  Hedy Lamarr, who helped invent a technology that would later be essential to the creation of Wi-Fi; and Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg. 

“How We Got to Now” is set to premier in fall 2014. Riverhead Books  will publish a companion book.


Review: Steven Johnson's 'Where Good Ideas Come From'

'Orange Is the New Black' book list: What is Piper reading?

Could the movie version of 'Book Thief' be a sleeper hit?

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
AuthorsPBS (tv network)Tim Berners-LeeMark ZuckerbergApple iPhone
  • Browsing for books around the world
    Browsing for books around the world

    Despite the dire predictions of recent years, print books refuse to die. Here's a collection of photos of people browsing bookstores, market stalls and book fairs around the world -- everyone's looking for something to read, without an e-book in sight.

  • 100 years of bookmobiles
    100 years of bookmobiles

    The German Robi bookmobile is pretty neat: from the outside, it seems like little more than a big blue bus. On the inside, however, it's an ultra-modern hangout with books galore. Inspired by its combination of books and wheels, here's a quick tour through bookmobiles of the ages.

  • Newly discovered Jack Kerouac letters to be auctioned
    Newly discovered Jack Kerouac letters to be auctioned

    Jack Kerouac is big business; in 2010, one biographer estimated the value of his estate at $30 million.

  • Authors United takes its case to Amazon's board of directors
    Authors United takes its case to Amazon's board of directors

    More than 1,000 writers acting as Authors United have signed a letter to be delivered to the 10 members of Amazon's corporate board. One of those board members has already gotten a letter from the group -- that's Chief Executive Jeff Bezos, the recipient of the first Authors United...

  • Is Oscar Pistorius writing a memoir?
    Is Oscar Pistorius writing a memoir?

    South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius, recently convicted of "culpable homicide" in the death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, might be writing a book about the model's slaying, according to his manager, Peet van Zyl.

  • National Book Award longlist for young adult books announced

    The longlist for the 2014 National Book Award for Young People's Literature was announced Monday. The books are drawn from many genres: fiction, science fiction and fantasy, memoir, nonfiction and mystery.