Book Review: The World’s Greatest Idea by John Farndon

Sometimes, I am in the mood for a book like this. The “countdown” format has become very synonymous with internet culture, but most clickbait is superficial with lots of photographs and little text. I think this is why books like this still hold that appeal for me.This is a book of what the author believes (based upon a brainstorming session with various experts in the field that he invited to participate in an internet forum) to be the greatest 50 ideas ever to grace human civilisation. They are as diverse as the aerofoil and contraception, marriage and laws of motion, the sail and the idea of “zero” all provided in an easy to countdown list.

I bought the ebook version of this and strangely, the index puts the list in alphabetical rather than numerical order. That’s why The Abolition of Slavery is first in the index but is listed as Number 6 in chronological order. A very strange way of doing it, I would have preferred numerical order but perhaps the author did not want to spoil what his top handful would be?

Strange, but I digress.

This is a bite-sized look at the ideas of human civilisation that have arguably driven us forward the most and I found it hard to disagree with most of them. My only complaint was that there were not that many of the promised concepts for future technology here. All of the items listed are stuff we have already achieved and there’s nothing that we are on the edge of discovering, however he does occasionally try to work that into the narrative where possible by highlighting potential future developments.

The best thing about it is that the author doesn’t wax lyrical about these big ideas because most of them have faults and problems that need to be addressed – and he is equally critical of capitalism and marxism, of the welfare state and religion, of feminism and every other hot topic generally seen as a progress for humanity. They are not presented as perfect ideals, but they are presented as concepts that have driven humanity for the better despite their flaws. It’s dry and dispassionate in places, I think it could have been far more engaging than it was bearing in mind the subject matter.

An interesting reference book and far more fulfilling than the average clickbait site, but it is not perfect, much like the ideas he presents.

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