A. Bowdoin Van Riper
I'm a historian who writes about modern science and technology: how they got to be the way they are, how they shaped (and were shaped by) the way people live their lives, and (especially) the stories we tell ourselves in order to try and make sense of them. I'm also interested in the stories we tell ourselves about the past, and the ways we try to capture it -- and make sense of it -- in movies and monuments, songs and schoolbooks. Along the way, I've written about rockets & missiles, atomic bombs, fossil mammoths, sailing ships, stone tools, zombie outlaws, time-traveling heroes, alien sex, Walt Disney's vision of the future, the significance of Amelia Earhart's leather jacket, and why (in cartoons) gravity only affects you when you think about it. For those who are curious about such things, I was born and raised in Massachusetts, attended public schools, and got my undergraduate degree (dual major in geology and history) from Brown University. I got my MA and PhD in the history of science and technology from the University of Wisconsin -- Madison, and went on to teach at Northwestern University, Franklin & Marshall College, Atlanta College of Art, Kennesaw State University, and (for twelve years) Southern Polytechnic State University. Along the way I've written ten books and a couple of dozen shorter pieces (so far), given more talks than I can remember, taught Boy Scout merit badge classes, been a script consultant for several TV documentaries, and advised the National Park Service on preserving the history of aviation. When I'm not working? Books, movies, beaches, boats, old buildings, quirky museums, junk shops . . . and the never-ending search for truly excellent pie.
Why "jeepers creepers" should be more profane than any word you (still) can't say on television, why it isn't, and why that matters.
10 Oct 2016
This new edition of Coal is a compulsively readable history of how coal made the modern world, and of modern attempts to to make a world without coal.
14 Jul 2016
Brad Bird’s message, with which he clubs the audience about the head and shoulders, is that we could have had jet packs, space travel, and all of that by now -- if only we hadn’t stopped believing.
04 Nov 2015
The internet economy has changed the world, and Andrew Keen (still) isn't happy about it.
09 Mar 2015
The history of the Scientific Revolution, retold: Clear, detailed, and as overwhelming as drinking from a fire hose.
19 Oct 2014
"Our Germans beat their Germans," someone quipped when Wernher von Braun's team of rocketeers put Americans on the Moon, but Operation Paperclip reveals that US involvement with ex-Nazi scientists was far deeper, and far darker.
02 Apr 2014
Lifted is an absorbing exploration into how the introduction of elevators into buildings transformed cities and the experience of living and working in them.
03 Mar 2014
Particularly in the later chapters, Lukacs' 75-year century leaves readers vulnerable to conceptual whiplash and the author vulnerable to rhetorical absurdity.
24 Oct 2013
Turkey legs may take the place of hot dogs, but even in the Middle Ages—at least the version of it in films such as A Knight’s Tale—fans still do The Wave.
25 Sep 2013
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