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Pop thought guru Steven Johnson, bestselling author of Everything Bad is Good for You, taps into neurobiology and pop culture – with a few stops in-between—to explore what fuels “Eureka!” moments in the history of problem solving.  (He considers, too, the less glamorous but no less effective slow dawning of realization that powers human thought).  Where Good Ideas Come From shines a hopeful light, illuminating human innovation where others see only the potential demise of the species (and the planet).


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Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

Steven Johnson

(Penguin; US: Oct 2010)

Johnson tells PopMatters 20 Questions of a certain bright bulb, if you will, also known as writer and activist,  Jane Jacobs, who has cast a light on his thinking – a light that will always be with him.


1.The latest book or movie that made you cry?
I misted up a little at the end of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, this weekend.


2. The fictional character most like you?
I’ve been flying so much lately I’m starting to feel like George Clooney in Up in the Air.


3. The greatest album, ever?
I’m not sure if this means it’s the greatest ever, but the one I’ve never fully been able to get sick of is Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks.


4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Honest answer: never been a huge fan of either.


5. Your ideal brain food?
A big triple-decker 19th century novel like Middlemarch or Bleak House.


6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
Raising three boys between the ages of nine and four with my wife. It’s total chaos in our house, but we’re still having fun, for the most part!


7. You want to be remembered for ...?
Connecting things that would have otherwise gone unconnected.


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The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America

Steven Johnson

(Penguin; US: Sep 2009)

8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
The scientists—particularly the Enlightenment scientists who were actually inventing science itself.


9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
SimCity.


10. Your hidden talents . . .?
I’m a pretty good golfer.


11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
My dad, a very accomplished government contract lawyer, told me repeatedly growing up that I shouldn’t become a lawyer.


12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
I borrowed—with credit—a few key ideas from Jane Jacobs about 15 years ago and I’ve been re-writing them ever since.


13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or…?
Paul Smith, but jeans not a suit.


14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
President Obama, naturally.


15. Time travel: where, when and why?
The 18th century London coffeehouse where Ben Franklin and Joseph Priestley (hero of my last book, The Invention of Air) used to hang out.


16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
Golf actually, often playing solo. It’s very meditative.


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Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter

Steven Johnson

(Penguin; US: May 2006)

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or…?
Coffee and red wine.


18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
Brooklyn!


19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
Now that we’re at the Ritz for dinner, what kind of wine should we order?


20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
Talking to the world about the new book, and putting together some hunches for the next one.

Karen Zarker, Managing Editor at PopMatters, works with a talented array of writers throughout the magazine. She manages the PopMatters Books Series, and also holds many behind-the-scenes operational responsibilities. She can be reached at zarker(at)popmatters.com.


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