I just finished reading The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention by William Rosen, and I enjoyed it a lot. It was quite a long book, and I expected it to be a history of the locomotive. While it did get to that point, the focus was really on the history of the science of invention in the Industrial Revolution, most notably of the steam engine and all its related "technologies." But in the words of Randy Pausch, that's just the head fake: what this book is really about is the most powerful idea in the world -- which is not the steam engine or one of the technologies but is in fact the idea of intellectual property and invention.
The book goes very deep into the physics that was developed in the 18th and 19th centuries and the individuals who made the huge advances, and it argues that it was Britain's nacent intellectual property and patent laws that properly incentivized individuals to invent and make the extremely drastic advances in productivity that the Industrial Revolution is known for. The idea that you should be able to benefit and own what you create, all the while sharing the benefits of your creation with society, is very powerful and is likely at the core of why America (originally a British colony) turned out to be such a fertile ground for the invention culture to blossom (as America continued to build on Britain's patent laws).
While this book is about the 1800s, the process of invention and tinkering that it describes is no less relevant for 21st century entrepreneurs.
As the author writes in the book, "the most important invention of the Industrial Revolution was invention itself," and understanding this process and how it was intentionally fostered and supported was the part of this book that I enjoyed most.
About Max Mednik
Max is an avid entrepreneur, engineer, magician, and student of life. He is a founder of AMA Capital. He graduated from Stanford and UCLA Anderson. He lives in Los Angeles with his family and spends his free time enjoying his many hobbies and interests.