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100 Diagrams That Changed The World


A visual history of how the world made sense to itself, from the hieroglyphs to the Internet.

The history of culture is dispersed in testimonies. All of them, or at least those that have set a standard, are an accumulation and synthesis of the knowledge of their era. From the dawn of registered history, we have used visual representations to map the Earth, measure time and organise the natural world.

100 Diagrams that Changed the World, by Scott Christianson, is a hallucinatory journey. Parting from early sketches, illustrations and paintings of the planet, it goes on to study the Rosetta Stone, Ptolemy’s map, Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man and the diagram of the Intel 4004 CPU, the first model of the Internet. This coherent, but especially illustrative piece crystalizes the evolution of man and the awareness of how everything is built on what came before. This book provides us a window, from where we can discern how to make sense of everything throughout history. In the introduction, Christianson writes:

It appears that no great diagram is solely authored by its creator. Most of those described here were the culmination of centuries of accumulated knowledge. Most arose from collaboration (and oftentimes in competition) with others. Each was a product and a reflection of its unique cultural, historical and political environment. Each represented specific preoccupations, interests, and stake holders.

The great diagrams depicted in the book form the basis for many fields — art, astronomy, cartography, chemistry, mathematics, engineering, history, communications, particle physics, and space travel among others. More often than not, however, their creators — mostly known, but many lost to time — were polymaths who are creating new technologies or breakthroughs by drawing from a potent combination of disciplines. By applying trigonometric methods to the heavens, or by harnessing the movement of the sun and the planets to keep time, they were forging powerful new tools; their diagrams were imbued with synergy.

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