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Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World, by Steven Johnson. Riverhead Books, 2016

Steven Johnson has a broad definition of ‘play’; he speaks not of just toys and sports but of anything that seems frivolous or unnecessary that brings happiness to people. He puts forth a pretty good argument that pleasant things were the driving force behind many of the world’s advances; we all know of how the lust for spices drove exploration, trade, and, sadly, slavery and colonialism, but there have been many similar events. When those same traders brought cotton fabrics back from India, women found them amazing and very desirable. Not only were the much cooler and more comfortable to wear, but they could be woven in lovely patterns. This led to cotton being planted in the New World- and of course led to the slave trade in America. The urge to automate weaving patterns in silk led Jacquard to developing punch cards to control the loom; those cards reappeared in the late 1950s and were a staple in all 60s and 70s computer labs. As soon as computers appeared, people wanted to use them to play games, which led to building bigger and better computers. It seems that people will go to great lengths for things that no one actually *needs*, but which add grace notes and interest to life. I love social history, and this was an interesting read. Some reviewers have complained that he doesn’t back up with sources, but there are fairly extensive notes and a bibliography.

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