CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 27. . . .March 14, 2014
Crabtree’s new “Inventions That Shaped the Modern World” series focuses on the discoveries and inventions which inspired future innovations in the worlds of agriculture, communication, medicine and transportation. Four titles, consisting of five or six chapters each, profile the inventors, the development of their inventions, and the impact those inventions have had on society. Each of the titles ends in some speculation about the future and new, exciting developments in that particular field. The books have been printed in a smaller format than the usual Crabtree fare, but they are still a bit too juvenile in appearance for the upper range of the target audience. Because reading levels also vary within the same title, not all fourth graders, for example, would fully comprehend the entire body of the text. There is a slight inconsistency in the writing: one title, in particular, is much drier than the rest, and, consequently, is not as interesting. Some important topics have also been omitted. In the title about communication, for instance, there is no mention of the development of sign language for the hearing impaired; and in the title about transportation there is no mention of snowmobiles which are vital to transportation in the north. On the plus side, however, the books contain quotes from various scientists, text boxes offer inventor bios and trivia, and the photographs, both black and white and colour, serve to enhance the text. A table of contents, a glossary, an index and a timeline are included. At the back of each book, there is also a list of related books and web sites for further study.
Agricultural Inventions: At the Top of the Field highlights farm machinery, such as tractors and harvesters, the practice of crop rotation, the use of pesticides, the development of genetically modified food and new varieties of wheat, and the preservation of food through the processes of canning in jars and tins, flash-freezing, and drying. Kids who love grilled cheese sandwiches have James Lewis Kraft to thank for the invention of a method to create process cheese that lasts for 10 months without refrigeration. Some of the other inventors profiled in this title include Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin, and George Washington Carver, who not only discovered ways in which to improve soil quality, but also found several uses for peanuts and worked with Henry Ford to develop fuel from soybeans.
Communication has come a long way since the days of cave painting and scratching marks in clay. Beginning with the earliest form of writing, cuneiform, Communication Inventions: The Talk of the Town focuses on writing, speaking, photography and cinematography, the telegraph and radio, and the advances made in computer technology, from the behemoth computers that took up an entire room to modern day smartphones. Inventions, such as the printing press, the telephone and the television, just to name a few, revolutionized the ways in which people communicate.
Perhaps the most interesting title of the series is Medical Inventions: The Best of Health. From the most rudimentary instruments to the most advanced medical technologies available today, this book discusses life-saving vaccines, scanning equipment, x-rays, radiotherapy, medicines, such as aspirin, penicillin and insulin, prosthetics, and discoveries about the genetic code. The contributions of Marie Curie, Frederick Banting and Alexander Fleming, among others, are recognized. Readers will be fascinated to learn that an app invented in 2010 enables doctors to use their tablets and smartphones to assess their patients’ heartbeats. What is missing from this title is information about nanotechnology.
Finally, Transportation Inventions: Moving Our World Forward features various modes of transport on land, sea and in the air. The invention of the wheel and the development of road systems led to the use of carts, wagons, stagecoaches, trains and bicycles, and, ultimately, to the invention of the automobile. This, in turn, changed the way people lived and how cities were structured. Rafts and simple boats made it easy to navigate rivers and other bodies of water, while the development of sailing ships made possible the exploration and settlement of North America. Trade routes were also established. In the air, balloons, airships, helicopters and jets found a purpose, and, not content to stop at the clouds, humans eventually designed rockets that could travel to outer space.
Generally, though this series provides a basic overview of the featured topic, it would benefit from some revision to ensure that more ground-breaking inventions are included.
Gail Hamilton is a former teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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