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Book Report

Insight Into Invention

By Bret McCabe

Inventology: How We Dream Up Things That Change the World

Pagan Kennedy
Inventology book cover

From 2012 to 2013, Pagan Kennedy wrote about the people who dreamed up everyday objects such as lipstick, the universal product code, and the cellphone in her New York Times Magazine’s weekly Who Made That? column. The research exposed her to the plodding and often disorderly course of the inventing process. She was interested in whether patterns might emerge when comparing the act of invention through the eyes of scientists, doctors, ethnographers, engineers, and amateur inventors, each of whom begins by imagining the future and then goes about prototyping until they devise some new indispensable thing.

With Inventology: How We Dream Up Things That Change the World (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Kennedy, a 1988 graduate of Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars MA program, doesn’t pinpoint a single process people use to produce successful inventions; rather she identifies different paths for creative tinkering. The book spotlights user-inventors like Debra Latour, who was born with a right arm that ended just below the elbow. She developed a small plastic anchor that rests behind her shoulder blade to replace the typical prosthetic claw harness she grew up using.

Most appealing to Kennedy is the emergence of lower-cost entry to datasets, computational tools, and manufacturing resources that are democratizing the research and development process. In medical science and health care, for example, the more people are able to access this information, the more human innovation inches closer to the massive scale of nature. “Cancer cells defeat us simply with their numbers and the trial-and-error ingenuity with which they evolve,” she writes. “How to fight back? By recruiting millions of people to try billions of experiments and thus mount a random sweep through the unknown that might unlock the secrets of killer diseases.”

“It’s crucial that we find out what people actually do as they invent things. What are they doing in their minds and with their hands? We need a new field of study—call it Inventology—to answer that question.”

Why Can't I Stop? book cover

Why Can’t I Stop?

Jon Grant, Brian Odlaug, and Samuel Chamberlain

A trio of psychiatrists examines seven common addictions—gambling, eating, sex, stealing, Internet use, shopping, and hair pulling and skin picking—and how to break the cycle. The book, published by the Johns Hopkins University Press, blends research and case studies to describe addictions and how behaviors can be diagnosed and treated.

Operation Health book cover

Operation Health: Surgical Care in the Developing World

Edited by Adam Kushner

The World Bank estimates that 11 percent of the global disease burden is treatable by surgery, yet more than a quarter of the world’s population lacks access to basic lifesaving medical procedures. Kushner, a Johns Hopkins general surgeon with extensive field experience, offers compelling justification for adding surgical care to the global health agenda.

Love and Forgiveness for a More Just World book cover

Love and Forgiveness for a More Just World

Edited by Hent de Vries and Nils F. Schott

The book’s contributors inspire new applications for love and forgiveness in an increasingly globalized and no longer quite secular world. The essays, edited by a Hopkins humanities professor and a post­doctoral fellow, focus on the power of these two concepts to unite people. The authors argue: If we’re attentive to the needs of others, people will respond in kind.

5 Picks

Yuval Bar-Or

Yuval Bar-or

Risk management expert Yuval Bar-Or, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins and author of the Pillars of Wealth series, offers his top five books for fiscal health.

  1. Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk

    Peter L. Bernstein
    John Wiley & Sons (1998)
  2. The Little Book of Common Sense Investing

    John C. Bogle
    John Wiley & Sons (2007)
  3. The Intelligent Investor

    Benjamin Graham
    HarperCollins (2006)
  4. A Random Walk Down Wall Street: The Time-Tested Strategy for Successful Investing

    Burton G. Malkiel
    W.W. Norton & Co. (2007)
  5. Too Big To Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System—and Themselves

    Andrew Ross Sorkin
    Viking (2009)

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