Extended Audio Sample

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 Audiobook, by Steven Johnson Click for printable size audiobook cover
3.69 out of 53.69 out of 53.69 out of 53.69 out of 53.69 out of 5 3.69 (26 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: December 2008 ISBN: 9781440679377
Regular Price: $17.50 Add to Cart
— or —
FlexPass™ Price: $15.95$5.95$5.95 for new members!
Add to Cart learn more )

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.

Download and start listening now!

BK_PENG_001103

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 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 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 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 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. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Neil | 1/25/2014

    " i heard of mr. priestly as cofounder of the unitarian church, but this book really shines a light on a man who helped shape the intellectual climate of the usa, as well as create ecosystem science. i will be reading other steven johnson books after this. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Mary | 1/19/2014

    " This is more than a biography. The author discusses scientific change, the relations between scientists and politicians in the 18th century, and more. It's an interesting perspective on British supporters of the American and French revolutions as well as on developments in chemistry. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Fypast | 1/8/2014

    " Despite a interesting enough subject matter, it read mostly like a decent undergraduate paper. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Aurora | 12/29/2013

    " Not only a biographical work about Joseph Priestley, but a great read about how scientific thought and innovation happens - the unpredictable mix of creativity, conversations with others, just plain accidents and coincidences, patience, and risk-taking. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jasmine Fournier | 12/29/2013

    " It is a bit boring but brings about interesting thought. More of a biography of Priestly than the chronicles of scientific reason in the US. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 John Newman | 11/26/2013

    " This was an interesting biography but more academic than I like. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Liz Tucker | 10/29/2013

    " This was a really good book - the story of Joseph Priestley, for those of us who just knew "he discovered oxygen", it gives an interesting look at the history of the time, and the study of chemistry as a discipline in its infant stage. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Steven Vore | 10/20/2013

    " A Story Of Science, Faith, Revolution, And The Birth Of America "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Tyler Willis | 8/14/2013

    " From the halfway point, this book appears to be Extremely good. It's compelling stories are very engaging. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Kl | 6/7/2013

    " I love studying the founding of our country. It was really interesting reading this book and seeing how the founder's were intertwined with the scientists of the time. Joseph Priestly led a fascinating life. It was a good read. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Kristen | 2/27/2013

    " Very interesting story of Joseph Priestley, an Enlightenment man whose simultaneous investigations into science, politics, and religion had a profound influence on the American Revolution and on scientific advancement in general. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 G0thamite | 8/9/2012

    " Great insights into Joseph Priestly and his time. Includes the close relationships Priestly had in his life - Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, among others. An easy and profitable read. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Jenine | 5/16/2012

    " Fun to read, made me want to have a better grounding in early AmHist. Mind still reeling from contemplating the history of oxygen levels on the Earth and how determinate it's been for all living things. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 John Machata | 7/5/2011

    " Wonderful mixture of history and the roots of modern science. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Peggy Hesketh | 6/29/2011

    " A little light on the religious/political connections, but the first half of the book is really fascinating "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Adam | 5/7/2011

    " Not sure that I've ever been sadder finishing a book. Extremely engaging story of a man enraptured by ideas. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Michael | 3/21/2011

    " Wow such a major figure in science and so quickly forgot. I great story to hear and know about. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jasmine | 12/22/2010

    " It is a bit boring but brings about interesting thought. More of a biography of Priestly than the chronicles of scientific reason in the US. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Tbooker | 12/15/2010

    " Insight into 18th century science, the product of free thinking. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Jim | 12/14/2010

    " He gives the subject a little too much credit for discovering Oxygen. A fun book if you don't mind wading through a bunch of history. I liked the discussion of the carboniferous era. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Gaye | 11/18/2010

    " This was a book club selection and a little over my head on the science part but I did enjoy learning about Joseph Priestly. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Ellen | 11/6/2010

    " Loved the premise, such an interesting person and ideas. Writing style didn't appeal to me should have been more engaging on such an interesting subject. "

Write a Review
What is FlexPass?
  • Your first audiobook is just $5.95
  • Over 90% are at or below $12.95
  • "LOVE IT" guarantee
  • No time limits or expirations
About the Author
Author Steven Johnson

Steven Johnson is the bestselling author of ten books, including How We Got to Now, Where Good Ideas Come From, The Invention of Air, The Ghost Map, and Everything Bad Is Good for You. The founder of a variety of influential websites, he is the host and co-creator of the PBS and BBC series How We Got to Now. Johnson lives in Marin County, California, and Brooklyn, New York, with his wife and three sons.

About the Narrator

Mark Deakins is an actor whose television appearances include Head Case, Star Trek: Voyager, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. His film credits include Intervention, Star Trek: Insurrection, and The Devil’s Advocate. He recently wrote, directed, and produced the short film The Smith Interviews.