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Steven Johnson recommends

Check out these resources on music, the history of automation, and how play and delight drive innovation, curated by Steven Johnson.

A few books that wrestle with the question of why we find music so powerful

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    This Is Your Brain On Music

    Daniel Levitin
    Plume/Penguin, 2007

    An examination of one of life's great mysteries -- why does music move us so powerfully -- written by a neuroscientist and musician who manages to explain both brain science and music theory with engaging clarity and insight. 

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    The Rest Is Noise

    Alex Ross
    Picador, 2008

    A magisterial survey of 20th-century music and the cultural impact of composers that stretched the boundaries of what the human ear perceives as music.

On the history of automation and early programming

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    The Turk

    Tom Standage

    A riveting account of the craze for automatons that swept through European culture in the late 1700s, including the famous chess-playing automaton that turned out to be a hoax.

For other examples of play and delight driving innovation

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    Homo Ludens

    Johan Huizinga
    Angelico Press, 2016

    The classic treatise on the role of play in human culture, written during the rise of fascism in the late 1930s. My own approach is more historical than Huizinga, but his broad sociological approach to play deeply shaped my ideas on the subject.

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    The Monopolists

    Mary Pilon
    Bloomsbury USA, 2016

    Everything you thought you knew about America's favorite board game is wrong. Mary Pilon reveals the secret history of the woman who actually invented Monopoly as a vehicle for championing progressive tax reform. 

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    The Immortal Game

    David Shenk
    Anchor, 2007

    A sweeping look at the social history of chess, from its influence on military strategy, to class identity in the Middle Ages, to twentieth-century neuroscience and artificial intelligence. 

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    Spice: The History of A Temptation

    Jack Turner
    Vintage, 2005

    A lyrical and mesmerizing account of the spice trade, which created the first true global marketplace, and laid the groundwork for the amazingly multi-cultural palate most of us enjoy today