Telling Tales

My aunt had long wanted to visit Painshill Park south of London, so in August we packed our knapsack and took a train from Clapham Junction. This lovely 18th century garden is full of exotic trees and follies such as the sturdy Turkish tent and slender Chinese bridge. It also has a high Gothic tower and an extensive Grotto. In addition it is also a great example of a proactive action from the local council, turning a declining property into a tourist attraction.

In the garden shop a green book caught my eye: Gardeners, Gurus & Grubs – The Stories of Garden Inventors & Innovations by George Drower. I bought it and have now been educated in how the development of gutta percha rubber hoses has contributed to the telecom industry, how a hovercraft inspired a Swedish technician to invent a lawnmower, how the evolution of glasshouses increased led to the invention of using circulating hot water as central heating, and how a female science-fiction writer published “Gardening for Ladies” and made gardening popular among women. Among many other things.

Now after reading it I reflected upon why I picked this particular book. I realised that I have somewhat similar books, accumulated during several years such as “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson, “The Dinosaurs Hunters” by Deborah Cadbury, “Twelve Books that Changed the World” by Melvyn Bragg, “A Teaspoon and an Open Mind – The Science of Doctor Who” by Michel White and “Gökmaffia och falska orkidĂ©er” by Staffan Ulfstrand. What I like about all these books is that they describe important historical and scientific events from a very human perspective. The reader receives information about not only garden tools, theories on physics, paleontological discoveries or analyses of animal behaviour, but is also provided with a context revealing the human behind the idea and the world she or he was situated in when publishing it.

By such rich presentations it becomes extremely apparent that development is much more a collective series of actions rather than individual achievements, and that the same idea often surface at roughly the same time at different locations but that chance plays a leading role. It is interesting to speculate in what consequences new technology has on this development where Internet services such as Wikipedia and Publish or Perish makes it less costly to distribute information. I’m sure that the Swedish chemist Scheele would have appreciated such devices.

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