9-3 | Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World

Book Review

Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World

Steven Johnson
New York: Riverhead Books, 2016. Introduction, footnotes, bibliography, and index. 323 pp. $30.00 cloth. ISBN: 9780399184482

by Howard P. Chudacoff

First Paragraph:

What fun it is to read a book about how fun has influenced human history! In Wonderland, Steven Johnson, iconoclastic cultural critic of the best sort, has turned several historical interpretations inside out to reveal that amusement and amusing things have produced some of the most profound transformations that fill everyday life. In six meaty chapters, savored with engaging stories and illustrations, he explains how “delight” was a driver of historical change through a “hummingbird effect,” mean-ing a “process in which an innovation in one field sets in motion transformation in seemingly unrelated fields” (p. 12). Thus innovative playthings such as music boxes and player pianos influenced the development of computer software, a bouncing ball used in a natives’ game observed by Columbus led to an international rubber industry, and the taste for exotic spices, such as cinnamon and pepper, propelled the expansion of international trade and the spread of Islam.