The Skimmer

Book Review: Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson

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Danny Kim for TIME

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History Of Innovation

By Steven Johnson

Riverhead; 336 pages

A good idea is often fleeting--slipping away into the ether as quickly as it emerged. So a book that seeks to explain where ideas come from? Good luck with that. Fortunately, Johnson isn't lacking in ambition. A favorite among the tech set, he breezily tracks the development of some of the world's best ideas, from Darwin's theory of evolution to Google News. While ideas may present themselves as sudden bursts of insight, the truth is much messier. "We like to think of our ideas as a $40,000 incubator, shipped direct from the factory," Johnson writes. "In reality they've been cobbled together with spare parts that happened to be sitting in the garage." GPS navigation started with two U.S. scientists snooping on the Soviets' Sputnik. The best ideas don't occur in a vacuum; they take time to grow, standing on the shoulders of occasionally unlikely people, platforms and experiences. Will reading Johnson's book give you the idea for the next big thing? Not by itself. But if you believe his thesis, it might just prove to be the first spark.