"Creating Things That Matter," David Edwards, Henry Holt & Co., 270 pages, $30.
In 1912, Otto Rohwedder of Iowa began working on the first machine to slice a loaf of bread, paving the way in the 1930s for Wonder Bread.
“The greatest thing since sliced bread” became the aphoristic stand-in for superb American innovation for good reason. Newly discovered chemical antioxidants slowed the bread’s fermentation and the development of plastic polymers allowed loaves to stay fresh even longer.
In “Creating Things That Matter,” David Edwards, a professor of a course in idea translation at Harvard, notes that it was commercial innovations, built on the back of advancements in science and technology, that created a world better than at any other time in history — broadening access to health care, education, clean water and information. And yet, these world-historical transformations aren’t looking so good anymore.
Think pollution and climate change. Today’s innovation methods are falling short and do not reward long-term projects. Edwards’ solution is to return science and art — disciplines segregated from each other post-Newton — to their rightful place as a single endeavor he calls “aesthetic creating.”
He came to this realization after having invented inhalable insulin, which despite being an improvement over injected insulin, wasn’t adopted, in part because it wasn’t offered in an aesthetically appealing way.
Edwards’ own “culture lab” is the Artscience: Culture Lab and Café in Cambridge, where people can interact with and consume works-in-progress of his own and his students and collaborators.