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Scott Christianson – 100 Diagrams that Changed the World

October 22, 2012

LibraryThing Early Reviewers116. 100 Diagrams That Changed the World: From the Earliest Cave Paintings to the Innovation of the iPod by Scott Christianson (2012)

Length: 224 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction

Started/Finished: 13 October 2012 (read-a-thon!)

Where did it come from? LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program.
Why do I have it? Well, the mention of cave drawings caught my attention, and we all know how I feel about graphs and charts and visual representations of data, so I thought this sounded like a neat idea.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 08 October 2012.

Your little doodles
could end up changing the world!
(But probably won’t.)

Summary: Diagrams – plans, sketches, drawings, and other visual representation of ideas or data – are all around us, but we don’t often stop to think much about them. In this book, Scott Christianson provides a compendium of diagrams throughout history, with a little background and explanation of each. They’re arranged chronologically, starting with the Chauvet cave drawings, and working forward through time to the origin of the world wide web and the invention of the iPod. Each diagram is presented on one page, with the facing page containing the text about the history and importance of each of the entries.

Review: This is a very cool idea for the book, that was hampered by not enough space, not enough detail, and overall not the best execution. Basically, throughout the book I found myself wanting more – bigger and more detailed pictures (ideally with labels on important features and/or translations of the harder-to-read scripts) and more text explaining each of the diagrams in more detail (again, ideally 3-4 pages per, rather than 3-4 paragraphs). Basically, I was hoping this book would be like a series of National Geographic articles, and instead, it’s essentially a coffee table type book, with only short blurbs. On the plus side, they did serve to whet my appetite for some things I didn’t know about, and gave me some interesting new leads to go looking for more information.

The actual writing style of the entries was fine, apart from it being insufficiently detailed. I gleaned plenty of interesting trivia (for example, the guy who discovered oxygen also invented the timeline). And, as I said, I think it’s a neat concept, and I bet the research involved was fascinating. Some of the entries are not, strictly speaking, actually diagrams (the Rosetta stone, for one), and I’m a little bit dubious that a number of them actually changed the world (for example, the Voyinch manuscript – if no one can decipher it, it’s not really changing much of anything, is it?). So, in the final analysis, this book was a neat idea, and enjoyable enough to browse through, but not detailed or substantial enough to be really satisfying. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: This would be a decent gift book for hard-to-buy-for engineers, cartographers, or other data nerds on your holiday shopping list, but it’s really better for browsing rather than reading.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Couldn’t find any yet. Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: It all begins with a diagram.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 32: “By introducing the Classical Orders, Vitruvius defined the essential column styles and entablature designs used in Classical architecture (later reproduced in so many representative diagrams), and also supplied his own judgments and tastes about what made the plans so distinctive and beautiful.” – the upper section of a classical building, resting on the columns and constituting the architrave, frieze, and cornice.
  • p. 56: “The most famous portolan chart, the Carta Pisana, is widely considered as the oldest surviving nautical map, designed to show accurate navigational directions that would aid mariners.” – navigational maps based on realistic descriptions of harbours and coasts.
  • p. 56: “These so-called portolano charts sought to incorporate accurate information on ports, coves, seas, and sailing distances, without trying to show the topography or toponomy of the inland areas.” – the scientific study of place names.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 25, 2012 3:20 pm

    Too bad the execution didn’t quite live up to the great idea! I love charts and diagrams too. :-)

    • October 26, 2012 10:54 am

      Joanna – There were lots of interesting little trivia bits, for sure, and I was surprised at how modern some things were, and how old other things were. I just always want more details…


  1. 100 Diagrams That Changed the World: From the Earliest Cave Paintings to the Innovation of the iPod | Science Book a Day

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