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Download The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America Audiobook

Extended Audio Sample The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America, by Steven Johnson Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (1,340 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Steven Johnson Narrator: Mark Deakins Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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Bestselling author Steven Johnson recounts—in dazzling, multidisciplinary fashion—the story of the brilliant man who embodied the relationship between science, religion, and politics for America’s Founding Fathers. 


The Invention of Air
is a book of world-changing ideas wrapped around a compelling narrative, a story of genius and violence and friendship in the midst of sweeping historical change that provokes us to recast our understanding of the Founding Fathers. It is the story of Joseph Priestley—scientist and theologian, protégé of Benjamin Franklin, friend of Thomas Jefferson—an eighteenth-century radical thinker who played pivotal roles in the invention of ecosystem science, the discovery of oxygen, the founding of the Unitarian Church, and the intellectual development of the United States. And it is a story that only Steven Johnson, acclaimed juggler of disciplines and provocative ideas, can do justice to. 

In the 1780s, Priestley had established himself in his native England as a brilliant scientist, a prominent minister, and an outspoken advocate of the American Revolution, who had sustained long correspondences with Franklin, Jefferson, and John Adams. Ultimately, his radicalism made his life politically uncomfortable, and he fled to the nascent United States. Here, he was able to build conceptual bridges linking the scientific, political, and religious impulses that governed his life. And through his close relationships with the Founding Fathers—Jefferson credited Priestley as the man who prevented him from abandoning Christianity—he exerted profound if little-known influence on the shape and course of our history. 

As in his last bestselling work, The Ghost Map, Steven Johnson here uses a dramatic historical story to explore themes that have long engaged him: innovation and the way new ideas emerge and spread, and the environments that foster these breakthroughs. And as he did in Everything Bad Is Good for You, Johnson upsets some fundamental assumptions about the world we live in—namely, what it means when we invoke the Founding Fathers—and replaces them with a clear-eyed, eloquent assessment of where we stand today.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “What enlivens the book is that Johnson does not simply describe the system within which Priestley and his contemporaries hashed out the features of classical science; he sets it against other, later systems for comprehending physical reality, showing laymen how far we have come from the classical age of science.”

    New York Times

  • One of the 2009 New York Times Book Review 100 Notable Books for Nonfiction
  • A New York Times Bestseller

Listener Opinions

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Chris | 2/15/2014

    " What an excellent book! It goes beyond the usual biography and puts the life of Joseph Priestley into a much broader context. Priestley was an amazing person -- a scientist, historian, and political and religious theorist who collaborated with Ben Frankilin, Thomas Jefferson, and Erasmus Darwin. Great book. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by William Leverne | 2/8/2014

    " Steven Johnson places Joseph Priestley well in his time as well as in the intellectual development science (natural philosophy), faith (a founder of the Unitarian Church), and political theory (interactions with Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson) coming out of the Age of Enlightenment. His multi-disciplinary approach laid the groundwork for ecosystem theories in today's science even though his experiments were as an "amateur." Finally, the end of the story regarding how the Jeffereson-Priestley letters had such a profound influence on the later Adams-Jefferson infamous correspondence exchanges was fascinating. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Brett | 2/6/2014

    " Steven Johnson has not disappointed in the past, I'm looking forward to this one. (I think my fav of his so far is Emergence). "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Jason Lineberger | 1/27/2014

    " The final ten pages bring the central ideas together beautifully with an guardedly optimistic tone. Those last ten pages have left me with plenty to consider. "

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