Monday, May 11, 2009

The Invention of Air

I just finished listening to the audiobook version of "The Invention of Air" by Steven Johnson. It currently has 4.5 (of 5) stars from 46 Amazon reviewers. The book is about Joseph Priestley (1733-1804), a British natural philospher, theologian, writer, and political theorist. He discovered oxygen and helped found Unitarianism. He made a lot of enemies with his book "An History of the Corruptions of Christianity" which apparently had great influence on Thomas Jefferson. He fled Britian for America in 1794 due to his radical beliefs (in comparison to contemporary Britian). The author mentions that his peers referred to him as "an honest heretic." I thought that was an interesting phrase.

I don't recommend this book. To use the author's jargon: the book is unnecessarily sesquipedalian. It's chock full of large multi-syllable words and stilted grammar. That alone doesn't actually bother me. I understood everything in the book. However, many times I found myself thinking: Why did the author use those words? There's a much easier, more direct, and more universally understood way to say that. The writing just seemed artificially erudite and a bit annoying.

Having said that, I did enjoy some of the book's content. I was especially fascinated by the apparent importance of Joseph Priestley. I'd never heard of him before, so I also didn't know anything of his long term relationships with, and influence upon, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and others.

If you want to learn more about Priestley, I recommend starting off with the Wikipedia entry about him. There are a few useful links to further reading at the bottom of that page.

No comments: