How are the discovery of oxygen, the founding of the Unitarian Church and ecosystem science linked? Author Steven Johnson tells the story of scientist and theologian Joseph Priestley, a protege of Benjamin Franklin and friend of Thomas Jefferson, in The Invention of Air.
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Author Steven Johnson’s new book, The Invention of Air, is, on the one hand, a supple examination of the man largely credited with the discovery of oxygen. On the other, it’s a subtle reminder of the intellectual glories of bygone days when great thinkers mastered numerous fields, not merely one.
Steven Berlin Johnson is a writer and entrepreneur who writes on the history of ideas. His books have included Everything Bad is Good for You, which suggested that contemporary popular culture is more challenging to the mind than it’s accused of being, and The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World, which tracked the spread of cholera in London in the mid-19th century as a way to understand the networked modern city. His newest book, The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution and the Birth of America tracks the life of the 18th century writer and scientist Joseph Priestley, and how his story can help us learn about the growth and development of ideas. Johnson also created the news discussion site plastic.com and the hyper-local site outside.in.
English scientist, philosopher and theologian Joseph Priestly conducted experiments that led to the discovery of oxygen. But he was also central in the politics and religious life of England and early America. We talk about Priestly with author Steven Johnson.