in the UK
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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