Wonderland by Steven Johnson

When I was a kid, I loved going to Disneyland. It is such a magical place. It is full of music, lights, animals, pirates, ghosts and so much more. As an adult I still find Disneyland a magical place. Though I know a lot of the secrets behind the magic, I am amazed at how I can find a magical kingdom smack dab in the middle of Orange County. But when you really take a step back and look at the wonders of Disneyland (and the Disney Company as a whole) you realize how the entire entity is completely unnecessary. To survive, we don’t need Disneyland. From an evolutionary perspective, Disneyland is a complete waste of resources.

Or maybe not.

This is the basis of the book Wonderland. The old bromide states that life’s greatest technological achievements were created from necessity. Times of war or famine have brought us revolutionary advances in atomic energy and agriculture practices. However, in this work, Johnson argues that the greatest achievements in human history were not built around necessity but around play. From fashion, music, taste, magic, games and public spaces, some of the greatest inventions were built from play. It is amazing to trace the evolution of computers to the development of music recorders or how our appetite for trickery led to the visual representations like film and video. The weakest chapter is probably the last one on public spaces, this chapter felt flat and perhaps quite obvious to the reader.

This a very interesting book much in the spirit of his other work How We Got to Now. Though Wonderland does not live up to How We Got to Now, it is still a very interesting book.