Steven Johnson is best known as a cultural iconoclast who defended the digital vices of the millennial generation in his best-seller Everything Bad Is Good for You. In his new book, The Invention of Air, Johnson tackles a subversive historical figure, Joseph Priestly, recasting the story of 18th-century American intelligentsia through the narrative of this British exile. Priestly rolled with movers and shakers like Thomas Jefferson (Priestly, a theologian as well as a scientist who was booted from Britain for his radical religious beliefs, is the reason Jefferson never fully disavowed Christianity), Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams. And while he’s been largely bypassed by history textbooks, his impact on American religion, science, and politics is striking. Priestly discovered sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, and, as the title of the book suggests, oxygen.
Johnson discusses and signs copies of his work at 7 p.m. at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919.