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Extended Audio Sample The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention, by William Rosen Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (199 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: William Rosen Narrator: Michael Prichard Publisher: Tantor Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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If all measures of human advancement in the last hundred centuries were plotted on a graph, they would show an almost perfectly flat line—until the eighteenth century, when the Industrial Revolution would cause the line to shoot straight up, beginning an almost uninterrupted march of progress.

In The Most Powerful Idea in the World, William Rosen tells the story of the men responsible for the Industrial Revolution and the machine that drove it—the steam engine. In the process he tackles the question that has obsessed historians ever since: what made eighteenth-century Britain such fertile soil for inventors? Rosen’s answer focuses on a simple notion that had become enshrined in British law the century before: that people had the right to own and profit from their ideas.

The result was a period of frantic innovation revolving particularly around the promise of steam power. Rosen traces the steam engine’s history from its early days as a clumsy but sturdy machine to its coming-of-age driving the wheels of mills and factories to its maturity as a transporter for people and freight by rail and by sea. Along the way we enter the minds of such inventors as Thomas Newcomen and James Watt; scientists, including Robert Boyle and Joseph Black; and philosophers John Locke and Adam Smith—all of whose insights, tenacity, and ideas transformed first a nation and then the world.

Rosen is a masterly storyteller with a keen eye for the “aha!” moments of invention and a gift for clear and entertaining explanations of science. The Most Powerful Idea in the World will appeal to anyone who is fascinated with history, science, and the hows and whys of innovation itself.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “The book has a crackling energy to it, often as riveting as it is educational.”

    Los Angeles Times

  • “Expect to take your time with Rosen’s lengthy history of steam power—which proves to be more engaging than you might expect…For history buffs and the technically minded, this title will be a favorite. But it is aimed at, and deserves, a wider audience.”


  • “The Industrial Revolution inspires more academic theories than absorbing narratives. Rosen, however, crafts one from subplots that connect with primitive industrialism’s premier symbol: the steam engine. Ardent about historical technology, Rosen modulates his mechanical zeal”


Listener Opinions

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Gary Misch | 1/29/2014

    " Great piece of industrial history. It ties British innovation together well with the strength of their patent system to make a case for why England prospered more than other nations, even though many critical innovations were created outside of England. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Mathias Rudolph | 1/27/2014

    " Finally done. Was okay, would have been nicer with some more illustrations of the variouse inventions. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by David Jedeikin | 1/15/2014

    " Fascinating story of how steam and coal transformed the world. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Margaret Sankey | 1/12/2014

    " Popular technology history of steam power, with ably described technological explanations of the fine differences between improvements, with a paean to the infrastructure of Great Britain (patent law, the Fire Engine Act of 1775, cotton, canals, the Bank, John Company and over-achieving Scots) that made it possible. "

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