The closest I’ve read to a book like this was Michael Pollen’s THE BOTANY OF DESIRE, though that book had to do with plants and how they impacted human societies and this has to do with technologies and how they impacted human societies.
Johnson separates the book into several basic categories such as: sound, light, clean, glass. He begins in antiquity, (the first glass, caves where the sound was interesting, discovery of microbes) and starts discussing how further advances in technology changed and were changed by these advances. For example, the printing press increased the demand for reading glasses, which made more lenscrafters, which led to telescopes and microscopes and the scientific advances that came from that.
A lot of this book were facts I’d read before, or were sort of familiar with, but others were surprising and new. I didn’t know that the entire city of Chicago was literally raised up out of the muck with jackscrews. I didn’t know that the first software programmer was Lord Byron’s daughter, or that the first flash photography was done in the Egyptian pyramids.
I’m a fan of Johnson’s breezy style, which is completely readable without being patronizing or overly modern. This is my favorite non-fiction book in a long while, a perfect example of my favorite sort of all-encompassing science writing.