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Bill Gates (CEO/Microsoft)

I just finished reading The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry and Invention by William Rosen. It focuses on the Industrial Revolution basically from the Newcomen atmospheric engine in 1712 to the Stephen Rocket Locomotive in 1850. It does a great job of explaining how thousands of innovations were driven during this period by many elements coming together: increased literacy, patents, societies, scientist/tinkerers, the cotton industry, trade/shipping, measurement, etc. It is a great book although its helps to have an interest in how steam engines actually work since it chronicles how they changed over time in some depth. This book is very worthwhile, and I’ll have more to say about it also in a longer review.

Amazon description

Hardly a week passes without some high-profile court case that features intellectual property at its center. But how did the belief that one could own an idea come about? And how did that belief change the way humankind lives and works?

William Rosen, author of Justinian's Flea, seeks to answer these questions and more with The Most Powerful Idea in the World. A lively and passionate study of the engineering and scientific breakthroughs that led to the steam engine, this book argues that the very notion of intellectual property drove not only the invention of the steam engine but also the entire Industrial Revolution: history’s first sustained era of economic improvement.

To do so, Rosen conjures up an eccentric cast of characters, including the legal philosophers who enabled most the inventive society in millennia, and the scientists and inventors—Thomas Newcomen, Robert Boyle, and James Watt—who helped to create and perfect the steam engine over the centuries. With wit and wide-ranging curiosity, Rosen explores the power of creativity, capital, and collaboration in the brilliant engineering of the steam engine and how this power source, which fueled factories, ships, and railroads, changed human history. Deeply informative and never dull, Rosen's account of one of the most important inventions made by humans is a rollicking ride through history, with careful scholarship and fast-paced prose in equal measure.

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