African American Inventions That Changed The World: Influential Inventors And Their Revolutionary Inventions, by Michael A. Carson
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Books Go Social. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
The first question to ask with a book like this is whether the book lives up to its title. Does this book discuss revolutionary inventions that changed the world ? In a word, yes. Some of the names in this book, like Washington Carver and Benjamin Bannaker, are relatively familiar names given their importance in helping the South recover from the soil depletion of cotton monoculture in the postwar period and in helping to design Washington DC, respectively. Other names are well known but surprising, like Jack Johnson, a famous boxer of the early 20th century who received a patent while in prison for violating the Mann Act. Other names are far more obscure but the author is able to discuss the inventions in a compelling way that make it obvious that the inventor made a positive change in the world through his (or her) invention. The book is well-written and has bite-sized portions that can be read without too much difficulty and appreciated by a wide audience.
It must be stated just how influential these inventors and their creations were. Included among the inventions discussed in this book are: the wrench, central heat and air, dry cleaning, traffic lights, the refining process for sugar, automatic transmissions, various train inventions, inventions related to video games, cell phones, and personal computers, seed drills, fire engine ladders, folding beds, and much more. It is hard to imagine our world being as it is without some of these inventions and innovations, and some aspects of our world–like agriculture and transportation–would be much more dangerous. The author discusses the biographical information, as it is known, about the inventors in a brief but tantalizing fashion, and also includes a detailed list of the patents held by the inventors discussed in the books along with a short autobiographical sketch of the author himself. The inventions discussed go back well into the 19th century and the author makes it plain that some of the inventors suffered a great deal from racism and slavery and sometimes struggled to earn money from their inventions. Most of them, however, have been honored by various professional societies and innovation-related halls of fame, as they ought to be given their inventions.
As a short book of just over 100 pages, this volume is definitely a worthwhile one. As someone who tends to be annoyed at the large amount of months that seek to honor segments of our society as if their contributions would not stand up if viewed in a larger context, I found the racial and political aspects of the work unpleasant. The inventors here deserve to be remembered, but primarily as inventive people and not as blacks per se. If we did a better job at remembering and appreciating invention and innovation in general, perhaps we could celebrate the innovative and creative aspects of people in general that serve as a reminder of the creative nature of our Creator and that serve humanity in making such improvements based on wherever we happen to find ourselves in this life and in this world. I am not sure the extent to which this book is necessary, but the inventions of this book and the people behind them deserve to be remembered and appreciated. It should not be necessary that such a niche work be written, with the likelihood that its appeal will only be for those which share in the lamentable identity politics of our age, but if it is necessary, shame on us.
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