The best books about inventors

6 authors have picked their favorite books about inventors and why they recommend each book.

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Book cover of The Lunar Men: A Story of Science, Art, Invention and Passion

The Lunar Men: A Story of Science, Art, Invention and Passion

By Jenny Uglow,

Why this book?

Birmingham’s Lunar Society’s members, among them James Watt who invented steam engines, Joseph Priestley, who discovered oxygen, Josiah Wedgwood, potter and visionary, met to dine on nights of a full moon (because then you could see to ride back). Birmingham in the 18th century was full of new ideas and the wealth they produced, and this sparkling book reflects its excitement.
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Book cover of The Inventor's Secret: What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford

The Inventor's Secret: What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford

By Suzanne Slade, Jennifer Black Reinhardt (illustrator),

Why this book?

We’ve all heard of these two inventors, but I hadn’t heard of the time they met. The title immediately intrigues and hooks in readers  – what did Ford and Edison learn from each other? Curiosity was a trait they shared that got them both into heaps of trouble and spurred them on to explore, innovate and create life-changing inventions. But before Henry successfully invented the Ford car, he looked longingly at Edison’s numerous successful inventions. What was the secret of his success? “Keep at it!” – such a simple, empowering tip, one that everyone can find inspiring and encouraging, especially…

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Book cover of They Made America: From the Steam Engine to the Search Engine: Two Centuries of Innovators

They Made America: From the Steam Engine to the Search Engine: Two Centuries of Innovators

By Harold Evans,

Why this book?

Fascinated by innovations, I’m drawn to these concise profiles that span two centuries, moving from the steam engine to the search engine. Continuing the theme of electricity, my favorite story is of Samuel Insull, who served for a time as Thomas Edison’s secretary. He created a business model—a utility monopoly—that brought cheap and drudgery-reducing electricity to millions, yet his corporate pyramids collapsed in the Great Depression, leaving millions of investors penniless. What a grand arc – from being the most powerful modernizer of the 1920s became the most notorious business villain of the 1930s.
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Book cover of Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor

Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor

By Emily Arnold McCully,

Why this book?

Marvelous Mattie is the true story of the woman who invented a machine to make flat-bottomed paper shopping bags, the same kind we still use in supermarkets. But her story is so much more than that. I quickly warmed to this talented and determined girl whose homemade kites and sleds were the envy of all the boys. When she was only twelve, she had to leave school and go to work in the mills, where an accident led to her first major invention, a lifesaving guard to keep pieces from flying off machines. I love McCully’s illustration style—it reminds me…
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Book cover of How to Become an Accidental Genius

How to Become an Accidental Genius

By Elizabeth MacLeod, Frieda Wishinsky, Jenn Playford (illustrator)

Why this book?

I love, love, love how MacLeod and Wishinsky create their “accidental” books. It’s the perfect blend of entertaining and educational facts about people from around the world making great discoveries. It also shows the most ordinary people can make the most extraordinary discoveries.  

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Book cover of America the Ingenious: How a Nation of Dreamers, Immigrants, and Tinkerers Changed the World

America the Ingenious: How a Nation of Dreamers, Immigrants, and Tinkerers Changed the World

By Kevin Baker,

Why this book?

Michael Nesmith was famous for being a member of “The Monkees,” but his family was rich before that success. His mother, Bette Nesmith, a secretary, and amateur artist, invented Liquid Paper in 1958. She sold her company to Gillette in 1979 for $49,500,000. This book chronicles the amazing achievement of hundreds of people just like Bette. Some became famous (Orville Wright, Levi Strauss, Fred, and Donald Trump, Helen Keller), whereas others were outshone by their creations. The author explains the thought processes, work systems, promotional efforts, and production demands behind each creative person’s journey from idea to finished product. Superb…

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Book cover of Hedy Lamarr's Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor

Hedy Lamarr's Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor

By Laurie Wallmark, Katy Wu (illustrator),

Why this book?

Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life appealed to me because it speaks to a world in which girls and women are still judged by their appearance, regardless of what they’re actually doing. “People seem to think because I have a pretty face I’m stupid,” Hedy Lamarr commented. “I have to work twice as hard as anyone else to convince people I have something resembling a brain.” In fact, she was a brilliant inventor in addition to a glamorous Hollywood star. Her many inventions included frequency hopping, a technology essential to cell phones and other devices used today. (And no, she wasn’t credited…

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Book cover of The Buntline Special

The Buntline Special

By Mike Resnick,

Why this book?

This short novel is heaps of fun! It’s another take on the Tombstone story, told from Doc Holliday’s point of view with great wry wit. This Doc is an engaging and unexpectedly kind character, with little or no hint of his reputed “mean disposition”. Weird elements include steampunk – with Thomas Edison living in Tombstone and bringing not only electric light but cyborg sex workers – as well as an undead Johnny Ringo, and supernatural justice wielded by the Native American shamans. It’s delightful!

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Book cover of Now & Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin

Now & Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin

By Gene Barretta,

Why this book?

I am a big Franklin fan, as anyone knows who has read my own book about him. This is my favorite book about Franklin as an inventor. I love Gene Barretta’s bright, cartoony illustrations and cleverly written text, which juxtaposes familiar modern-day scenes with Franklin’s astonishing array of innovations (he even invented the odometer??) in a rollicking salute to a Founding Father far ahead of his time.  

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Book cover of The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin

The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin

By Gordon S. Wood,

Why this book?

It may seem unfair to group Benjamin Franklin among con artists and impersonators, but he certainly had a talent for self-invention. Most biographies of Franklin take it as a given that he was the “first American,” who set the mold for what we call the American dream. In this highly readable and comparatively brief biography of the great man, Wood breaks from that tradition and tells the story of a provincial striver whose many public personas were motivated by a desire to fit in among aristocratic Europeans. If you think you know what made Franklin tick, this biography will make…

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