Book Review: 100 Diagrams that Changed the World

Wow. This book is a real gem. Packed with 100 diagrams that really did change the world — from the Mayan calendar to the first flushing toilet to schematic drawings of the first mobile phone — this collection by Scott Christianson really is an eye-opener to the ways that complex ideas can be explained in visual terms.

“The diagrams featured here were the end result of deep and sustained observation, experimentation, reflection, research and artistic practice that recognized — often intuitively — that interdependency of the intellectual and the creative … In the end, these diagrams are the essence of abstract thought, representing fundamentally what it means to be human.” (p.13)

And so it is, from the very page where we glimpse the Chauvet Cave Drawings (30,000 BC)  through the fascinating Marshall Island Stick Navigation Charts (2000-5000 BC) to Ptolemey’s World Map (150 AD) to sketches by Leonardo da Vinci, Copernicus and Galileio that changes human perceptions of the world around them forever.  Modern ideas include the first conceptual maps of ARPNET and the World Wide Web, as well as the Apple computer that Job and Wozniak put together. Line graphs, pictogram charts, mapping systems, flow charts and more all have their origins on the map of history itself, and Christianson teases those stories out, noting how in many cases the thinkers were years ahead of everyone else.

See a slideshow of a few of the diagrams

I’m already thinking of how to use some of these diagrams in my classrooms for a reading activity. I’ll share that out some other time. For now, though, consider 100 Diagrams that Changed the World one of those books that you keep on the counters of your house or work desk for when you have a moment to be amazed. Open a page, and let it happen.

Peace (in the charts),


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