Stephen Fry’s Great Leap Years is an amazing whirlwind tour through the history of technological innovation. As far as I can tell, the currently available 6 episodes comprise series 1 (and hopefully more series are to follow), which is a deep dive into the history of innovations in fields of information and communication.
Simultaneously erudite, engaging, and accessible, Fry begins at the dawn of communication, in the cognitive revolution that humans underwent, followed quite some time later by the invention of writing. Covering this vast swathe of time in the first episode, the second episode talks of Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, and how that permanantly changed the dissemination of information to large groups of people. Moving swiftly through the invention of the telephone, and the subsequent founding by Bell of Bell Labs, the creation of AT&T, the invention of the vacuum tube, which led to the creation of radio, the establishment of large networks of railways, and finally, to the world of the semi-conductor and the transistor, which rules much of our technological space today, Fry has covered the vast and rapid trajectory of these technologies.
In a significant departure from many other popular works on technology, Fry also talks in detail not just about the inventors who came up with these revolutionary modes of communication, but also the titans of industry and business who were responsible for these technologies reaching the general masses. From the people who bankrolled Gutenberg in the setting up of his press, to the AT&T’s dominance in the field of telephones; from the robber barons’ establishment of massive networks of railways, to IBM’s near monopoly over computing machines for a time, Fry covers, in detail, the inextricable link between technology the invention, and technology the business.
This podcast is indeed an absolute treat in terms of the deeply researched content (entirely researched by Fry alone!). However, it is as much a treat due to its brilliant exposition. A superb writer and an equally brilliant narrator, Stephen Fry has made this absolute gem of a podcast. Do check it out!