Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World

Riverhead. Nov. 2016. 336p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780399184482. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780399184505. TECH
Johnson (How We Got to Now) inverts the premise that the industrial revolution and technology gave rise to a leisure class that had time for play and hobbies and instead proposes that concepts and inventions from the world of leisure contributed to the building of modern life. Both fun and invention share a need for novelty and surprise, and it is the pursuit of the new that propels history. The author demonstrates how colonialism arose not from the need for Malthusian necessities such as food staples and clothing but from an ever-increasing appetite for fresh and different goods. In addition to investigating cuisine and fashion, the book explores how nonessential activities (e.g., music, entertainment, and games) directly contributed to technological advances in computing, virtual reality, logic, and mathematics. Johnson concludes by examining how public spaces such as bars and coffee shops have occupied an important role in political revolutions and the re-creation of entire professions (journalism, insurance).
VERDICT An engaging survey full of unexpected connections that readers of a historical or sociological bent will find particularly riveting.
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