Introducing a new multiplatform project — including a TV series and books—chronicling a revolution in medicine and public health, set in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic

If you had to pick one chart to represent the last hundred years or so of the modern age, what would it be? I think it would have to be this one, tracking the changes in global life expectancy from 1900 to today.


The latest info on events supporting the book launch and PBS series

We have an amazing lineup of events coming together for the month of May, including a number of public conversations about the PBS series that I’ll be posting shortly. In the meantime, here are the main events in the virtual book tour for Extra Life:

Monday, May 10 @ 7:30PM ET/4:30 PM PT Greenlight Bookstore In Conversation with Randall Munroe https://www.greenlightbookstore.com/event/steven-johnson-randall-munroe May 12 @ 8:00PM ET / 5:00PM PT Family Action Network (bookseller: Book Stall) In Conversation with James Hamblin https://www.thebookstall.com/event/steven-johnson-extra-life-fan-event May 17 @ 5:00PM ET/ 2:00 PM PT Books & Books + Politics & Prose + Harvard Bookstore In…


A new multiplatform project — including a TV series and books—chronicling a revolution in medicine and public health, set in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic

If you had to pick one chart to represent the last hundred years or so of the modern age, what would it be? I think it would have to be this one, tracking the changes in global life expectancy from 1900 to today.


Ten Improbable Minutes At Sea That Changed The Course Of History

September 11, 1695
The Indian Ocean, West of Surat

On a clear day, the lookout perched atop the forty-foot mainmast of the Mughal treasure ship can see almost ten miles before hitting the visual limits of the horizon line. But it is late summer, in the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean; the humidity lingering in the air draws a hazy curtain across the spyglass lens. And so by the time the English vessel comes into focus, she is only five miles away.

The existence of an English ship in these waters is hardly noteworthy. They are only a few…


It’s pub day for my new book.

In normal times I would be sitting in an airport somewhere, posting a list of upcoming bookstore events here. But these are obviously not normal times.

And yet in many ways, I feel genuinely fortunate, because book publishing (and book reading) has continued through the COVID-19 crisis even if traditional book tours have not. And so I’m very happy to announce that my twelfth book is officially on sale today: Enemy of All Mankind: A True Story of Piracy, Power, and History’s First Global Manhunt.

Enemy tells the story of the 17th-century pirate…


A new podcast on how we’re going to make it through the COVID-19 crisis, and the world we want to live in when it’s over.

Over the past two years, I’ve been hosting a weekly podcast called American Innovations produced by the talented folks at Wondery. During that time we’ve told the stories behind a number of crucial breakthroughs in the history of health and medicine, from the development of the polio vaccine, to the invention of anesthesia, all the way up to our last series on the pioneering doctors and scientists behind organ transplants. And we’ve always accompanied those historical narratives with interview episodes with present-day figures who are hard at work driving new breakthroughs in these fields.

But today we find ourselves in…


A pirate, an emperor, a corporation, and history’s first global manhunt. My next book, arriving in May.

ALMOST A DECADE and a half ago, I published a book called The Ghost Map, about a cholera epidemic in London in 1854. Like most of my books it jumped across multiple disciplines — from microbiology to urban planning to epidemiology. But, unlike most of my books, it had what the Hollywood people call a “through-line”: a central, more or less linear, narrative that the book rarely strayed far from. There was a killer loose on the streets of London, and a (medical) detective on the case. …


Here’s what I was up to in 2018. (Mostly professionally, but a few personal bits as well.) Roughly chronological order…

I wrote a 9,000-word piece for the @NYTMag that was ostensibly about the blockchain, but really about the importance of open protocols and the future of the Internet. Generated more response than any magazine piece I’ve ever written.

In their superb special issue on Free Speech, Wired published my in-depth look at Cloudflare’s decision to eject the Nazi site The Daily Stormer from their platform. (My first real stab at “tick-tock” journalism, and preview of some of decision-making themes that would come out later in the year.)

With the good folks @Wondery, we launched a podcast series, American Innovations. (Hosted…


My new book on the history of innovation, written for middle-grade readers.

Six years ago, when we first started planning out the TV series that would become How We Got To Now, we knew from the beginning that we wanted to make a different kind of history show. Instead of focusing on political leaders or military conflicts or social movements, we wanted to tell the often unappreciated stories behind the modern world’s innovations: the creation of clean drinking water in big cities; the invention of refrigerators and air conditioning; the spread of cheap artificial light. …


We spend too much time making kids memorize facts instead of giving them the skill that will help them throughout their lives

Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

When I look back at the first quarter-century of my life in school, it’s hard not to be astounded at the sheer range of subjects I was taught: grammar, chemistry, algebra, European history, postmodern literary theory, film studies, and countless others. We all have a similar list, with some variation at the margins. But contemplating all those courses a quarter-century later, as a 50-year-old, what really strikes me is what was missing from the list.

In all those years at school, not once did I take a class that taught me how to make a complex decision, despite the fact…

Steven Johnson

Writer. 12 books. (The latest: Enemy of All Mankind.) Host, American Innovations, Fighting Coronavirus, How We Got To Now. Three kids, one wife. Brooklyn/Marin.

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