BooksJacket Copy

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

AuthorsPBS (tv network)Apple iPhoneMark ZuckerbergTim Berners-Lee

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)Apple iPhoneMark ZuckerbergTim Berners-Lee
  • 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.

  • 'The Hilltop' views everyday absurdism in occupied territories
    'The Hilltop' views everyday absurdism in occupied territories

    Assaf Gavron's 2010 novel "Almost Dead" does something I would have thought impossible — it makes satire out of terrorism. The story of a man who becomes an Israeli national hero after surviving three attacks in a single week, the book offers a sharply ironic look at the...

  • To write and die in L.A.
    To write and die in L.A.

    To pay tribute to London's literary dead, tourists go to Highgate Cemetery. In Paris, it's Père Lachaise. But in Los Angeles, boot up the GPS — our writerly dead authors are buried all over town, befitting L.A. sprawl.

  • Tips from Amtrak's first writer in residence
    Tips from Amtrak's first writer in residence

    Bill Willingham, Amtrak's first writer in residence, has taken his train tour and has advice for the authors who will follow in his tracks.

  • Edward Carey discusses his gothic adventure, 'Heap House'
    Edward Carey discusses his gothic adventure, 'Heap House'

    It's 1875, and all of London's trash is banished to a wasteland known as "the heaps." The Iremonger family presides over this grim realm from Heap House, a mansion itself made up of parts of other buildings. Cut off and inter-marrying for generations, they have developed...