This summer marked the first time I took a close look at my former employer JP Morgan’s summer reading list. The firm issues a reading list every summer to provide top-quality suggestions on exemplary works of non-fiction to its clients (and employees). I’ve been wanting to delve a bit more into non-fiction literature thus I purchased three books that were in line with my interests and this post highlights my summary and thoughts on the first one I read to completion and enjoyed How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention and Discovery by Kevin Ashton.
I. Overall Impressions
Overall, there is much to gain from this book as it contained a variety of anecdotes of the failures, successes and breakthroughs all creators and their creations must endure. From the story of the discovery of the double-helix model of DNA, the adventures of the Wright brothers in creating the first man-made flight machine, to the discovery of pollinating the vanilla plant outside Mexico, the book is rich in details and metaphors. Perhaps most importantly, Ashton (the author) repeats time and time again that geniuses are not the only ones capable of producing ingenious creations – rather, anyone with enough grit can. Furthermore, Ashton dismisses the myth of creation that inventions are the byproduct of one “Aha!” moment. Instead, persistence and insights are far more significant in the process of creation.
II. Favorite Parts
Amongst my favorite passages of the book, there were two I found the most intriguing. The first is in Chapter 6, Chains of Consequence which describes in detail the Coca-Cola Company’s efficiency in perpetuating global trade and selling its products globally. While the company’s invention has brought the obvious economic benefits to first-world citizens, another more significant impact is that the cleaning, cooling, and other industrial processes required for coke means a 12 oz can uses more than 4000 oz of water for its creation. As there are communities in this world that suffer from water shortages, impacts of invention can lead to the necessity of taking socially responsible actions.
Chapter 7, The Gas in Your Tank does a wonderful job delineating the success of Woody Allen in being one of the most prolific screenwriters of all time, definitely within my lifetime. While prior to reading this book I was not aware that Mr. Allen eschews award ceremonies, upon reading about him I was not surprised. This is a man whose internal motivational fuel is enough to write, create and produce and who is not motivated by the allure of awards and external praise. In fact, Mr. Allen deemed Annie Hall, forever enshrined as one of his most famous works, as terrible. By refraining from being distracted by the judgment of others and refusing to succumb to things such as “writer’s block,” Mr. Allen devotes his life to creating for the purpose of creating, not for the purpose of praise.
III. Would I recommend this book?
Absolutely. It is full of thought-provoking anecdotes and suitable for anyone looking for that spark on how to go about creating something of their own. In fact, this very blog was inspired by the ideas inherent in this book. While the anecdotes related to discoveries within the sciences is definitely prominent throughout the book, that goes to show the significant amount of scientific breakthroughs that have occurred in human history, certainly during the last three centuries, and the inevitable positive consequences that this has had on human life, relationships, and outlook. The ripple effect creations can have on their environment long after creators are gone and when only their stories, influences and inspirations remain is powerful.